A thoroughgoing study of Baptists, radicalized by persecution and honed by internal schism.
Although both authors are avowed Baptists and teach at the Baptist Baylor University, Kidd (George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, 2014, etc.) and Hankins (Jesus and Gin: Evangelicalism, the Roaring Twenties and Today’s Culture Wars, 2010, etc.) present a fairly evenhanded account of Baptist history, from the first Baptist colony at Providence to the full-blown clashes over fundamentalist doctrine between the powerful and competing Baptist organizations allied with the political right from the 1970s until today. Baptists emerged originally as a radical element from the Reformation movement (“Anabaptists”) that rejected infant baptism, which had become accepted as an “emergency measure” for children in an age of high infant mortality, in favor of “believer’s baptism,” whereby adults recognized and repented their sins and were reborn. A branch of the Separatists in Colonial America, the Baptists were seen as dangerous dissenters from the Puritan and Anglican mainstream, however, and persecuted relentlessly. The Great Awakening of the 18th century would spur a radical evangelical wing that helped dismantle the older New England churches in favor of new churches in Philadelphia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Sandy Creek, North Carolina. The authors highlight the important role the Baptists played in the American Revolution in their campaign for the disestablishment of the state churches and insistence on pressing for religious liberty. Kidd and Hankins demonstrate how the first schism occurred over the issue of slavery, with growing tensions between northern and southern Baptists and African-American membership doubling. Shut out from political power after Reconstruction, blacks formed their own institutions—e.g., the influential National Baptist Convention USA. The authors usefully trace the Baptists’ shift from outsiders to consummate insiders, all the way to the White House.
An instructive work that allows for a fuller understanding of an important religious element in America.