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Contending for the Faith

Southern Baptists in New Mexico, 1938-1995

Daniel R. Carnett

Publication Year: 2002

How did a southern evangelical religion, culturally, racially, and geographically homogeneous, become the largest Protestant denomination by 1960 in a region as diverse as New Mexico? And why did the Baptist Church's growth in New Mexico level off after the mid 1980s? In examining these two questions, historian Daniel Carnett connects the answers to national trends in the history of Protestant America in the twentieth century.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii-x

For anyone interested in the study of religion in America, the state of New Mexico offers unparalleled opportunities. It is a microcosm of the nation. Within the state’s borders, one finds Native Americans practicing their ancient beliefs alongside adherents to Islam. A short distance away, Sikhs congregate at their temple. Although Roman Catholics and Protestants dominate the ...

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1. An Overview of Baptist History

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pp. 1-17

The English separatist tradition provided the ferment from which a people that would later be called Baptists emerged during the early years of the seventeenth century.1 Early records of a group with identifiable Baptist beliefs center on an English minister by the name of John Smyth who led a small congregation to Holland in 1607. Smyth soon left the congregation, however, ...

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2. The Formative Years in New Mexico: 1849 to 1937

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pp. 18-29

Baptist entry into New Mexico Territory was accidental. The Northern Baptist Home Mission Society had intended to start working among the “forty-niners” in California. To that end, they sent Hiram Walter Read to the gold fields. Unforeseen events, however, prevented him from reaching that destination. Upon learning that a minister and his wife were coming ...

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3. Harry Stagg and the Rise of New Mexico Baptists: 1938 to 1960

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pp. 30-43

Since its inception, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico (BCNM) had experienced numerous hardships. The strain caused by the financial collapse of the 1930s further damaged the organization. Bickering and infighting became commonplace. A “grouchiness” epidemic pervaded the convention manifesting itself in an arbitrary and uncooperative spirit. Commenting on this...

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4. Glorieta

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pp. 44-57

While New Mexico Southern Baptists battled to establish themselves in the state, they also waged a struggle to elevate the importance of the West in the eyes of their own denomination. The Fortress Monroe Agreement with the Northern Baptists in 1894 had opened the door for Southern Baptist expansion, but early efforts outside the traditional boundaries of the South remained ...

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5. New Mexico Baptists and Social Issues: 1938 to 1960

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pp. 58-69

Not only was the state convention busy building a strong corporate structure and erecting denominational edifices, it was equally active in speaking out on issues of concern to Baptists. Leading this crusade was the Baptist New Mexican’s aggressive editor Lewis A. Myers, who directed the newspaper from 1947 to 1959.1 To ensure that it was not simply a mouthpiece of the ...

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6. New Mexico Baptists in Turmoil: 1961 to 1974

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pp. 71-87

“The gospel is challenged today as never before.”1 This assertion by Bruce Morgan, professor of religion at Amherst College, graphically described the position in which Baptists found themselves as a new decade dawned. Morgan went on to state that the contemporary age had become “post-Christian” and those who dismissed it as just a period of history did not understand the ...

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7. New Mexico Baptists and Social Change: 1961 to 1974

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pp. 88-105

Turmoil not only resulted in reorganization, but also altered Baptist relations with the community. Traditionally, public involvement centered on moral issues and institutional development projects, such as orphanages, hospitals, and schools. After World War II, battles for religious freedom and separation of church and state became equally important. Although interest in these ...

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8. The Chester O’Brien Years: 1975 to 1984

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pp. 106-118

After the tumultuous 1960s, the Chester O’Brien era became a welcome return to normalcy for New Mexico Baptists. On the surface, the previous decade seemed like an unpleasant dream, as Baptists returned to their twin emphases of evangelism and church planting. Elected unanimously, O’Brien began his tenure in January 1975 under extremely favorable circumstances. ...

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9. The Claude Cone Era: 1985 to 1995

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pp. 119-135

The declining years of the O’Brien era foreshadowed a change in the fortunes of Southern Baptists in New Mexico. The evangelical wave of the 1970s stalled in the early 1980s. A new time of trial awaited the convention. Unaware of what was about to happen, Claude Cone assumed the directorship on March 1, 1985. At the first State Executive Board meeting of his tenure, Cone ...

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10. Continuity and Change: A Redefined Church for the Post-1960s Era

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pp. 137-160

Coping with post-1960s American society led New Mexico Baptists to make fiscal, polity, and structural changes within their convention. Their response affected beliefs and customs, for they had to adapt to a religious climate that seemed to be growing less and less Christian. Adjusting to these new conditions began to undermine traditionally held practices and eroded ...

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11. Conclusions

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pp. 161-177

Baptist expansion within New Mexico was to a large degree due to the efforts of Baptists themselves, but that growth occurred within a specific historical context conducive to the spread of religion. After World War II, revival radiated across the land for nearly fifteen years. The impact of the depression and war revived interest in the church as an important social institution in the life ...

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Epilogue: 1996 to 2000

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pp. 178-182

Without a doubt the greatest change that has occurred within the Baptist Convention of New Mexico (BCNM) over the last five years has been a renewed emphasis on church planting. Conversely, the greatest continuity in the convention during the same period has been the plateauing and continued decline in core church programs. ...

Appendix: Baptist Beliefs

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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-213

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 214-224


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pp. 225-230

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826328397
E-ISBN-10: 0826328393
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826328373
Print-ISBN-10: 0826328377

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 27 halftones
Publication Year: 2002

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Subject Headings

  • Baptist Convention of New Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Southern Baptist Convention -- New Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • New Mexico -- Church history -- 20th century.
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