- Fundamentalism, Fundraising, and the Transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1919–1925by Andrew Christopher Smith
Religious scholar Andrew Christopher Smith presents a valuable study in Fundamentalism, Fundraising, and the Transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1919–1925, the inaugural title in the University of Tennessee Press series America's Baptists. Smith convincingly argues that the late 1910s and early 1920s were truly transformative years for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). More specifically, Smith contends that the SBC developed into a highly centralized, professionalized, and bureaucratized entity after World War I in response to northern-based Fundamentalism and the Interchurch World Movement, as well as Progressivism and modernism more broadly. Significantly, this argument counters the perception of Southern Baptists as distinctly democratic, nonhierarchical Christians. Smith uses the Seventy-Five Million Campaign—an unprecedented fund-raising campaign established in 1919 in which members in every Southern Baptist church were asked to sign pledge cards and give over a five-year period—to concretely trace the denomination's metamorphosis. Baptist newspapers serve as the chief primary sources, while convention records and personal papers of prominent Baptists assume a supporting role.
Smith commences by considering the boundaries of this new, more progressive form of Baptist democracy as seen through the eyes of E. Y. Mullins, a prominent theologian who was president of both the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the SBC. In analyzing Mullins and his The Axioms of Religion(1908) and its broad influence on Southern Baptist leadership, Smith maintains that Mullins helped shift the definition of Baptist democracy from [End Page 457]one grounded in Jacksonian democracy to one centered on Progressive democracy. In practical terms, Mullins and his followers promoted the SBC as an efficient, centralized, and paternalistic bureaucratic structure that could boast of a strong executive board and of a significant legal existence when not in session. In so doing, Mullins "psychologized the freedom of the individual Baptist, opening the field of decision-making to experts who would direct the Convention's spiritual energies towards denominational programs" (p. 38). Chapter 1 lays out the ideological framework for Smith's book and the new Baptist democracy, while subsequent chapters explore particular facets of the transformation of the SBC. This exploration includes, most notably, the unsuccessful Seventy-Five Million Campaign and the Southern Baptist press as well as Southern Baptist higher education. Importantly, and somewhat contradictorily, the new centralized and paternalistic SBC of the 1920s adopted a more progressive organization and leadership style as a means to keep the perceived threats of modernism from germinating in the South.
Repetitive and, at times, uninspired prose diminishes Smith's monograph. Likewise, the author could have sharpened his analysis with more careful attention to historical context as well as a more concerted effort in placing Southern Baptists in relation to southerners who were members of smaller, though still influential, Protestant denominations. Despite these reservations, Smith's book begins to fill a gaping historiographical void, namely, the relationship between "the scope and character of the interaction between Southern Baptists and early Fundamentalism" (p. 2). Smith concludes that Southern Baptists largely accepted Fundamentalist doctrine but did not approve of separatist and disloyal Fundamentalists who rejected the Southern Baptist denomination as a means to achieve their antimodern views. Fundamentalism, Fundraising, and the Transformation of the Southern Baptist Conventionwarrants reading by a wide range of scholars who study the twentieth-century American South. Southern Baptists, who represented nearly 40 percent of the South's white churchgoing population by 1910, wielded significant authority and clout—politically, economically, and socially—in the region. Consequently, a study that conclusively traces the veritable transformation of the largest Christian denomination into a more centralized and bureaucratized organization strongly encourages scholars to address more fully the relationship between religious culture and political values in the South.