- Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen's Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed
A denomination founded on the basis of schism—an 1845 split between proslavery and antislavery Baptists—the Southern Baptist Convention occupies an important role in the history of religion in the American South, as well as in the United States. From 1979 through 2000, this denomination experienced a conflict between two factions. At the end of this period, one faction gained control of the denomination, and the other faction departed to form new denominational entities. Examinations of this conflict rest on the border between history and current events.
Scholars have, however, produced important works of scholarship paving the way for Eileen R. Campbell-Reed's study. These works include Ellen M. Rosenberg's The Southern Baptists: A Subculture in Transition (Knoxville, 1989), Bill Leonard's God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1990), and Nancy Tatom Ammerman's Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, N.J., 1990). In addition to these academic studies grounded in the scholarship of the respective disciplines of the authors, a number of people personally involved in the conflict have produced well-written and informative books of advocacy that provide helpful narratives and chronologies, as well as partisan accounts from a particular vantage point. Campbell-Reed has consulted these and many other studies, offering a critical engagement with them. Her nonpartisan academic study also adds to the literature by examining a largely unexplored dimension of the conflict: the lives of women. While the conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention involved positions on women—conservatives opposed women in ministry while moderates supported women in ministry or, more accurately, did not actively oppose women in ministry—few studies examine women themselves. Campbell-Reed, through interviews with women in ministry affected by the conflict, provides a different and important examination of this period through the framework of gender. In addition to gender, Campbell-Reed provides a theological and a psychological analysis of the experiences of the five clergywomen she has interviewed. Interdisciplinary in its grounding, Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen's Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention reads as a narrative history in its content.
Campbell-Reed correctly presents her study as nonpartisan and distinct from earlier studies that have a tone of advocacy about them. One way she approaches historical objectivity is through avoiding descriptors used by the factions involved, replacing "moderate" with "autonomist" and "conservative" [End Page 483] with "biblicist," and referring to the conflict as a "schism" rather than a "takeover" (pp. 8–9). The book does have a very precise focus on one aspect of gender. The five women interviewed are in sympathy with the autonomist party. Additional studies will be needed to show the gendered dimensions of fundamentalism, including those women who embrace a fundamentalist identity within American religion. Campbell-Reed creates an important analysis of contemporary Southern Baptist history using new methodologies and examining women, who have been understudied. Historians will find her analysis helpful, and they will find that the extensive quotations from the interviews provide important information about women who opposed changing directions in the Southern Baptist Convention at the end of the twentieth century.