“Resolved, That for peace and harmony, and in order to accomplish the greatest amount of good, and for the maintainance of those scriptural principles on which the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist denomination of the United States, was originally formed, it is proper that this Convention at once proceed to organize a Society for the propagation of the Gospel.”
This will be Part II of a III part series on the formation of the SBC. For Part I on the split from the North, click here. Part II will deal with the historical aspect of the formation of the SBC, and part III will deal with the theology behind the documents that were crafted in the early years.
On May 8, 1845, delegates from the Southern states met in Augusta, GA. The meeting was called by the Virginia Foreign Missions Society and the purpose was to form a Convention separate from the Triennial Convention, on the grounds listed in Part I along with a couple other contributing factors. The stage was set and a new Convention was about to come forth. They were called to order at 10AM by Rev. W.T. Brantley from the Baptist Church in Augusta opening with prayer. Missionary Isaac McCoy from Kentucky was also in attendance.
They then elected officers; William B. Johnson became the first President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Vice Presidents elected were Hon. W. Lumpkin from GA, and Rev. J.B. Taylor of VA. Soon after electing the officers the Convention crafted the resolution quoted above.
During the 8 o’clock session on May 10, after some discussion and amendments, the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention was passed. Also decided was the formation of another committee to prepare an address to the public, informing them of the changes coming to the religious landscape of America. They agreed to meet in Richmond, VA on the Wednesday following the first Sunday in June 1846. The next task at hand was establishing the missions boards, and they agreed to set up the Board for Foreign Missions, located at Richmond, Va., and the Board for Domestic Missions, at Marion, Al.
It should also be noted that while the primary issue for the division of the Convention was the appointment of slave holding missionaries, the members of the Southern Baptist Convention still had a desire to see the black population worship God. Their resolution:
“That the Board of Domestic Missions be instructed to take all prudent measures, for the religious instruction of our colored population”
Such a statement may seem strange to us living in the 21st century but this paradox was prevalent in these times. Another famous example of this can be seen in the life of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, writing just 69 years earlier in the Declaration of Independence, penned these famous words:
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This is peculiar considering the fact that during the course of his lifetime, Thomas Jefferson owned numerous plantations and hundreds of slaves. This is particularly hard for us to wrap our minds around living in a post slavery America and it is not an action to be excused by any means, but somehow Southern Baptists were able to balance in good conscience owning slaves and evangelizing them. The best and perhaps most famous example of a defense of slavery as a Scriptural institution can be found in the dialogue between Richard Fuller and Francis Wayland.
The Southern Baptist Convention had some troubling issues early on, make no mistake. These issues would be settled very soon, as the start of the Civil War was only 16 years away.
For further reading, on the slavery issue, click on Richard Fuller’s name above. All other data was pulled directly from the SBC annual of 1845.
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