Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Race Is Dividing The Nation’s Largest Protestant Denomination

A Bible at the feet of a congregant at First Baptist Church of Refugio, Texas, in 2019.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
A Bible at the feet of a congregant at First Baptist Church of Refugio, Texas, in 2019.

From Texas Standard:

All is not peaceful inside the 14 million-member Southern Baptist Convention.

The largest Protestant denomination will be grappling with race as it chooses its next leader at the annual meeting in Nashville, according to The New Yorker.

“What we’re seeing is fissures in the SBC opening, reflect a larger reality for as many as 80 million Americans who consider themselves evangelical Christians,” said Eliza Griswold who wrote about the conflicts for The New Yorker.

Griswold told the Standard how the faith was rooted in slavery.

“It was founded to safeguard the institution of slavery. In the 1800s, when Northern missionaries basically banned slaveholders from serving as missionaries, Southern missionaries seceded and formed the SBC so that you could be a missionary, you could go abroad, to a foreign field and still be a slaveholder.”

But as the church moved into the 20th century, it became, for a moment, more progressive.

For a time, the Southern Baptists even ordained women; women could be pastors,” Griswold said.

And after slavery ended, the church has made moves to atone for its slavery origins.

“There have been marked measures in moments at which the SBC has decried its racist past, repented of it, generated reports that really speak to the truth of its implication in this larger institution of slavery,” said Griswold.

But problems arose within congregations because some believe not enough action has been taken.

“That’s why we’re really at a crisis point today,” she said.

Whomever is selected as the denomination’s new leader at the annual conference in Nashville will signal the future of the SBC, she says.

“Will it double down and elect a hardliner?” Griswold said. “Or will it take a different tack and say, you know what, we’re going to elect somebody who believes that racism is real; who has been doing racial reconciliation work in their own community?”

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and Thanks for donating today.

Related Content