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May 04 , 2008

Getting Right With God

Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995


This groundbreaking study finds Southern Baptists more diverse in
their attitudes toward segregation than previously assumed.

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Focusing on the eleven states of the old Confederacy,
Getting Right with God examines the evolution of Southern Baptists'
attitudes toward African Americans during a tumultuous period of change
in the United States. Mark Newman not only offers an in-depth analysis
of Baptist institutions from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and
state conventions to colleges and churches but also probes beyond these
by examining the response of pastors and lay people to changing race relations.

The SBC long held that legal segregation was in line with
biblical teachings, but after the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Board
of Education
decision in favor of desegregating public institutions,
some Southern Baptists found an inconsistency in their basic beliefs. Newman
identifies three major blocs of Baptist opinion about race relations: a
hard-line segregationist minority that believed God had ordained slavery
in the Bible; a more moderate majority that accepted the prevailing social
order of racial segregation; and a progressive group of lay people, pastors,
and denominational leaders who criticized and ultimately rejected discrimination
as contrary to biblical teachings.

According to Newman, the efforts of the progressives to
appeal to Baptists' primary commitments and the demise of de jure segregation
caused many moderate and then hard-line segregationists to gradually relinquish
their views, leading to the 1995 apology by the Southern Baptist Convention
for its complicity in slavery and racism. Comparing Southern Baptists to
other major white denominations, Newman concludes that lay Baptists differed
little from other white southerners in their response to segregation.

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