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Uneasy in Babylon

Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture

Written by Barry Hankins

Publication Year: 2002

The first book-length interpretation of the new conservative leaders of America's largest Protestant denomination.

Uneasy in Babylon is based on extensive interviews with the most important Southern Baptist conservatives who have assumed control of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Known to many Americans from their appearances on national TV talk shows, such as Larry King Live and Fox News, they advocate a return to traditional values throughout the country. Hankins shows how differing cultural perceptions help explain the great chasm that developed between fundamentalists in the SBC and the moderates who preceded them as leaders of the denomination.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Among institutions that supported this project, I would first like to thank the University Research Committee at Baylor University for four consecutive summers of grant support. The funding allowed me to travel about interviewing Southern Baptist conservatives and doing archival research, without which I would have been unable to complete this project. Baylor’s Institute for Oral History, under the direction of Rebecca Sharpless, also ...

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pp. 1-13

In 1967 historian Rufus Spain published a social history of late-nineteenth-century Southern Baptists entitled At Ease in Zion. In that book Spain showed how Southern Baptists were comfortable in a culture they had largely built. This did not necessarily mean that Southern Baptists had succeeded in making the South distinctly Christian, let alone Baptist, just that they had come to identify with southern culture and feel comfortable in ...

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1. Moving off the Plantation: Southern Baptist Conservatives become American Evangelicals

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pp. 14-40

Throughout most of the twentieth century, moderate Southern Baptists who controlled the Southern Baptist Convention cared much less about challenging and critiquing their culture than did progressives on the left wing of the denomination or conservatives on the right. While most moderates were comfortable within southern culture, progressives pestered them on issues of race, peace and justice, and women in ministry. Certainly, many ...

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2. “The War of the Worlds”: Southern Baptist Conservatives as Culture Warriors

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pp. 41-73

SBC conservatives perceive the secularization of the public square and the accompanying government hostility to religion to be the greatest cultural concern of our time. There are three distinct ways of articulating this cultural perception: intellectual, informed activist, and populist. The intellectual position tends to come from confessional Calvinists and is marked by a depth of understanding and an appreciation for nuance.

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3. From Christianity Today to World Magazine: Southern Baptist Conservatives Take Their Stand in Louisville

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pp. 74-106

The experience of conservative Southern Baptists with the broader evangelical world has been one of mixed success. There is indeed an evangelical constituency with whom they have found a welcome niche. The process of finding that niche, however, was fraught with difficulty and pain largely because SBC conservatives were often unaware of how diverse the evangelical world is. The belief on the part of some conservatives that the answer to ...

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4. The Search for a Useable Past: Religious Liberty in a Hostile Culture

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pp. 107-138

Discussions of Baptists and culture often begin with church-state religious liberty issues because Baptists have a record of being at the forefront of the insistence on freedom of worship. This has been their special interest, and in many ways they have succeeded in making a positive mark on American culture.

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5. Using a Useable Past: Church-State Positions

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pp. 139-164

Both moderates and conservatives in the SBC attempt to look to a rather remote Baptist past for clearly defined advice about modern church-state issues. Both sides come away convinced that their Baptist forebears would agree with them. While there is some historical merit in looking to past traditions for clues and principles, few exercises could be more futile than trying to enlist the forefathers behind today’s causes, but even historians do ...

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6. No One Has Been Shot Yet: Southern Baptists and the Abortion Controversy

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pp. 165-199

In 1994 James Davison Hunter published Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War. This was a follow-up, companion volume to his much-debated Culture Wars. In the introduction he reiterates his basic culture-war argument and ties it specifically to the intractable positions the opposing sides take on key public issues. Hunter writes: “I focus here on one controversy in particular—the one surrounding abortion—as a ...

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7. Graciously Submissive: Southern Baptist Conservatives and Women

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pp. 200-239

“Southern Baptists have basically followed their host culture in their teachings and attitudes about women. . . . This leads one to conclude that as society grants further rights to women in the future, Southern Baptists will possibly follow.” So wrote Baptist Church historian H. Leon McBeth in a 1977 article.1 Southern Baptist conservatives would set out in the 1980s to render false both parts of McBeth’s statement. By the end of the century they had succeeded.

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8. Conservatives Can Be Progressive Too: Southern Baptist Conservatives and Race

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pp. 240-271

It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of race in Southern Baptist history. The denomination was founded in large part because of a controversy over slavery. Leon McBeth includes three reasons that southerners formed the SBC, but then adds, “[S]lavery was the final and most decisive factor which led Southern Baptists to form their own convention.”1 Prior to the formation of national Baptist denominations, Baptists in the United ...

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pp. 272-277

Given that each of the chapters of this book has its own conclusion, what appears here will include only brief observations, most of them rather tentative. It is quite early in the history of the SBC conservative movement to draw anything but provisional conclusions. That being the case, this work is intended to start, not complete, a historiographical process. Certainly, historians fifty years from now will have a clearer picture.


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pp. 279-316


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pp. 317-332


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pp. 333-344

E-ISBN-13: 9780817313364
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817350819

Publication Year: 2002