What comes to your mind when you hear the name “Baptists”? For many, it conjures up visions of fire-and-brimstone preachers, country churches, and televangelists like Jerry Fallwell. But Baptists are one largest and most diverse religious groupings in the U.S, second only to Catholics.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, one in six Americans (17.2%) identify themselves as Baptist of one sort or another. But that number includes an amazing (and sometimes baffling) diversity of belief and practice. One of the key Baptist principles is the autonomy of the local congregation, and there is no Pope, Bishop, or other hierarchy to enforce orthodoxy. Baptist groups reflect regional, historical, and cultural distinctions, including Southern Baptists, American Baptists (formerly Northern Baptists), Progressive Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Missionary Baptists, General Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, and on and on, including my own personal favorite, the Two Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists.
This week, two of the largest Baptist groups in the United States will be holding their regular gatherings. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meets in Louisville June 23-24, while the American Baptist Churches (ABC/USA – my own denomination) will meet in Pasadena June 26-28.
EthicsDaily.com, a site sponsored by a diverse group of Baptists notes one significant distinction between these two groups. The SBC program (titled “Actions Speak Louder than Words”) features program leaders who are predominantly white and male (in the whole conference there is one African American, one Hispanic, and one woman).
By contrast, the ABC program “I Am Sending You” demonstrates ethnic and gender diversity throughout. The beginning plenary session will be opened by an ordained woman, include a welcome from the executive minister of the ABC churches of Los Angeles who is Indo-American, hear scripture read by a woman, a talk by a white male, and preaching from an African-American. Women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics are featured among the executives, workshop leaders, and featured speakers.
Not all Baptists are the same! So the next time you hear the word “Baptist,” take a moment to ask “which kind?”
- About One In Six Americans Are Baptist
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
- SBC Program is Virtually All White, All Male;
ABC Program is Multi-Cultural
- American Baptist Churches USA
- Southern Baptist Convention