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Book Review: Getting Right With God

Book Review: Getting Right With God

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Published by Rod
Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Segregation 1945-1995 by Mark Newman.
Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Segregation 1945-1995 by Mark Newman.

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Published by: Rod on Apr 15, 2012
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Book Review
The title of the book that I read was Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists andSegregation 1945-1995 by Mark Newman. Newman introduces the audience to the SouthernBaptists by giving a brief history of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is very important to citethe cultural context of a religious group
s history in order to understand its tradition better. TheSouthern Baptist Convention split with the General Missionary Convention of the BaptistDenomination in 1845 because the organization did not allow slaveholders to becomemissionaries.
1
Newman also notes that he does not look at the SBC through the lens of viewingthe South as a whole; rather, he studied SBC history on a state by state basis. From within the 11former Confederate states, Newman studies opinions from SBC messengers (delegates fromindividual and local churches to the national SBC), sermons, editorials written by pastors andSBC presidents, and non-binding resolutions adopted by state chapters of the SBC and the SBCitself.
2
 The first chapter is about the myths and values that were deeply instilled in both theBaptist and Southern Baptist belief system. Baptists saw evangelism as the primary job of thechurch, hence the emphasis on missions both home and abroad. Intertwined with the high regardfor
evangelism in the Southern Baptist church is the myth of the “Lost Cause
,
” which was usedto explain God’s role in
 
the Civil War. The “Lost Cause” theory is based on the premise that
even though the Southern States were more righteous than the Union, God used defeat in the
1
Newman, Mark.
Getting Right With God.
p. vii
2
Newman, Mark.
Getting Right With God.
p. viii-vix
 
Civil War to punish the South for not properly converting the slaves.
3
Because of the continuedbelief that the blacks were not properly converted, blacks were still seen as morally inferior. The
“Lost Cause” myth is the root of fear of black mi
scegenation and rape and is also the foundationthat leads to the justification of lynching.Lynching and mob rule were symptoms of anarchy and disorder that contradicted the
Southern Baptists’ respect
for law and order. But after slavery was abolished and as blacksformed their own churches, the white churches stopped caring about the black dilemma allthrough the Reconstruction Era until the end of World War II.
4
World War II changed racerelations here in the United States and worldwide because Adolph
Hitler’s maniacal
reign forcedAmericans to examine their own racial attitudes. Progressive voices from within the SBC came
from the Women’s Missionary Union, the Christian Life Commission of t
he SBC, and theseminaries.
5
The progressives changed the SBC
’s
ambivalent attitude toward blacks in threestages: first, they promoted equality within segregation; second, they encouraged compliance
with the federal government’s desegregation of public schools after the
 
 Brown
ruling; lastly, theyraised support for the gradual integration efforts after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
6
 It is worthwhile to note that not one single state convention adopted a resolution that condemnedthe 1964 CRA.
7
 The third chapter gives a sociological interpretation of SBC race relations. The role thatProtestantism, especially the Southern Baptist brand, played in the process of legitimizingsegregation was tremendous for a couple of reasons. First, Southern Baptists theologians
3
Ibid. p. 3
4
Ibid. p.4
5
Ibid. p.21
6
Ibid. p.22
7
Ibid. p.32
 
tailored their beliefs to American democracy and ideals of freedom. Southern Baptists generallybelieved that segregation was a system ordained by God himself and that it was wrong toquestion God.
8
Second, the Baptist emphasis on individual sin rather than corporate immorality,along with the strong emphasis of individual regeneration through Christ made way for theprivatization of the
church’s responsibility t
o deal with sin.
9
This is why
the SBC’s
SocialService Commission fought for prohibition in order to prevent the individual demon of alcoholism for the first half of the 20
th
century rather than deal with the social sin of a racistsystem.It is interesting that it was actually a different set of Baptist values that set out to
undermine the SBC’s silent approval of segregation. Baptists believe whole heartedly in the
priesthood of all believers; therefore, it is very important to allow as much freedom as possiblefor the individual to read Scripture. The best way to do this was to promote 100% literacythrough the public education and seminary system. The main opposition to the plausibilitystructure of segregation came from seminary professors and students.
10
Progressives argued that
“God was not a respecter of persons” and “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to
dwell o
n all the face of the earth.”
11
 
Koinonia Farm “attracted interest of Baptist college and
seminary s
tudents” because of its call to racial unity and economic equalit
y.
12
These students
would usually wind up serving on either state chapters’
Baptist Social Service Commissions orthe SBC
’s
Christian Life Commission and would publish articles and adopt resolutions thatwould not exactly align with the prevailing Southern Baptist opinion of the day.
8
Ibid. p.48-49
9
Ibid. p.40-41
10
Ibid. p.66
11
Ibid. p.66
12
Ibid. p. 69

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