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Running head: SOUTHERN BAPTIST CULTURE

The Southern Baptist Culture


Keaton Blair
University of Kentucky

SOUTHERN BAPTIST CULTURE

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Abstract

This paper attempts to separate common misconceptions of the Southern Baptist culture from
honest representations. It focuses on the beliefs and rituals, the values, and the common
stereotypes of this culture. It begins with a brief introduction of how to join the religion,
followed by a basic background of the culture. Then, it looks at some of the common beliefs
such as authority of scripture, baptism by immersion, and autonomy of the Church. Then it
moves into the role of women, then premarital sex, then homosexuality. Stereotypes are then
presented, and the reality of them is questioned.

Keywords: Southern Baptist, Culture, Religion

SOUTHERN BAPTIST CULTURE

The Southern Baptist Culture


If someones beliefs differ from our own, does that make them wrong? The Baptist
denomination of Christianity is the largest Free Church denomination in the world, including
more than 40 million members world-wide. Under this denomination are the Southern Baptists;
they are a very controversial culture in America. There are certain aspects that set this culture
apart. Misconceptions involving the Southern Baptist culture are based on a few inaccuracies that
stem from difference in beliefs and the media.
Becoming a member of the culture is more than a process, it's something you feel inside.
Suzanne Harper, a member of the Methodist Church, explains First youre born physically.
Then spiritually when youre born, you move on from your past and your troubles. You have a
new life, a new perspective on things (S. Harper, personal communication, September 23,
2014). Although Suzanne is a member of the Methodist culture, a lot of similarities exist
between Methodists and Southern Baptists. There are specific steps that you can follow, such as
the ABC's. A is to admit to God that you are a sinner.
B is believing that Jesus died on the cross to save you
from your sins. C is to confess to everyone that Jesus
is Lord, usually through baptism (Parker & Parker,
2006). Although the process is laid out to younger

kids through summer outreach programs, like


Vacation Bible School seen in Figure 1, it's much
more than that.

Figure 1 Children worshiping at


Vacation Bible School.

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Becoming a Christian isnt all about the social norms that some people would associate
with the religion, i.e. going to church every Sunday, doing some things while not doing others.
Being a Christian is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what
makes someone a Christian (Got Questions Ministries, n.d.).
The Bible does a great job at giving reasons why people should follow Christ. For
example, And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy.
But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13
English Standard Version). However, the Bible doesnt really tell why people find Christ and
why they choose to follow him. Some could say that growing up in a religious household
influences this. Suzanne was constantly surrounded as a child by religion, but she admits to
falling away from God:
Growing up, I turned away from God. Ive cheated and lied, Ive done it all. When I
finally came back to Jesus was when I figured out that I couldnt live my life without
him. I didnt have anyone else to turn to but God. (S. Harper, personal communication,
September 23, 2014).
Culture can be defined as a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art,
etc. (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Sharing a common belief is the foundation for culture. Although
many denominations exist in the Christian faith, all Christians follow the same general beliefs.
For example, Christians follow a very monotheistic system. The entire basis of Christianity is
following one God. I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God (Isaiah
44:6 New International Version).
Two more examples of common beliefs are that God knows all and that Jesus died on the
cross for the sins of mankind (Fairchild, Basic Christian Beliefs, n.d.). He counts the number of

SOUTHERN BAPTIST CULTURE

the stars; He gives names to all of them (Psalms 147:4 New American Standard Bible). The
purpose of this verse in the Bible is to show that God knows all, down to the number of stars in
the sky, and even hairs on your head. Secondly, the story of Jesus is a well-known story. The
Bible tells us that there was a man named Jesus, he was born of a virgin, and he was resurrected
on a cross to pay the ultimate price for the sins of mankind.
The Church focuses on a lot of key points, a few include: authority of scripture, baptism
by immersion, and autonomy of the Church. Authority of scripture refers to the fact that Baptists
believe the Bible is the ultimate authority in shaping a persons life. Baptism is sacred and it is
symbolic of an act of obedience to Jesus Christ. Each church (individual church) is autonomous
meaning that there is no hierarchical body telling local churches how to conduct business. The
churches own their buildings and they hire their own staff members (Fairchild, Southern Baptist
Church Beliefs and Practices, n.d.).
While a lot of similarities exist between Southern Baptist and other Christian
denominations, there are just as many differences, for example: baptism. Baptism in the Southern
Baptist Culture can only be done by immersion and to believers only. They also reject infant
baptism, which is a common act in the Catholic Church.
While a lot of similarities exist between Christian denominations, there are just as many
differences. One example is baptism. Baptism in the Southern Baptist Church can only be done
by immersion. Comparing to the Catholic Church, which allows for just touching the baptism
water. Southern Baptists also do not allow infant baptism, which is a big aspect of the Catholic
Church.
Culture is a lifestyle. Almost every aspect of life is affected. Communication is a big part
of life that is changed because communication styles vary between cultures. Suzanne further

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explains Being at church, Im in that mindset of ready to worship and open my heart up
surrounded by people who are there for the same reason. Im more vulnerable about my
Christianity (S. Harper, personal communication, September 23, 2014). People tend to be
uncomfortable talking about personal things (i.e. spirituality) with people who are not like them.
Some of the social norms associated with this culture include: worship service and
hearing your pastor speak every Sunday, praying every day, and getting into the bible every day
(S. Harper, personal communication, September 23, 2014).For college students, it can be harder.
Juggling classes, studying, and work can make it difficult to devote time to God. For college
students, you can be in bible studies, go to night worships (S. H., personal communication,
September 23, 2014). This relates back to the whole idea of self-concept because you really have
to see yourself as part of this culture and want to be part of it to follow these social norms. It
requires time and devotion away from your friends and work. Something that I have noticed in
my day to day life is that people who devote time and energy to one thing tend to be labeled as
socially awkward and weird.
The role of women in Southern Baptist culture is a touchy subject. The Southern Baptist
Convention has had a history of giving women leadership rights then taking them away again. In
1984, women were banned from serving in leadership positions (Cook, 2010). Women are
allowed to work in positions such as Sunday school teachers and worship leaders; even then,
they are under direct supervision of the male pastor. While the Southern Baptist Convention does
not directly control the churches, they can vote to remove them from the Convention. Its like
they can do whatever they want, but can face circumstances if the Convention does not agree
with what they are doing.

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Not only is the role of women a back burner issue, pre-marital sex falls into this
category as well. In the Southern Baptist Culture, pre-marital sex is a big issue because it is
defined as a sin in the Bible. Therefore, while some estimates show that 85 percent of nevermarried women had their first intercourse before marriage (Rosenbaum & Weathersbee, 2013),
the numbers are expected to be much lower within the Southern Baptist Culture. However,
Rosenbaum and Weathersbee (2013), found that more than 70 percent of Southern Baptist
Church respondents reported having pre-marital sex (Rosenbaum & Weathersbee, 2013). This
plays into self-concept because, according to the study, Southern Baptist church members are
influenced by the pressure of sex like others and regret it like others. The Southern Baptist
Convention, the governing body for the Southern Baptist denomination, believes differently.
A position statement from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) states We affirm
God's plan for marriage and sexual intimacy one man, and one woman, for life. Homosexuality
is not a "valid alternative lifestyle" (Southern Baptist Convention, 2014). While the SBC takes a
very obvious stance on the topic of homosexuality, each individual has his or her own view.
Baptist churches in North Carolina will have to deny membership to gays or face expulsion
from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (Christian Century, 2006). This is the title
from a news article and shows how individual stance is far different from the stance of the
Conventions. This leads to the argument of what is moral? Perception has a lot to do with this.
The views of the Convention usually trump individual views and cause people to prejudge
members of the Southern Baptist culture. Don Gordon, pastor of Yates Baptist Church in
Durham, said, You can still believe homosexuality is sinful behavior and oppose this
amendment [to ban homosexuals in churches] (Christian Century, 2006).

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Misconceptions can be very harsh among the Southern Baptist Culture. Suzanne
explains:
Its a common stereotype that Christians are very close minded, they are quick to talk
down to you and hit you with a bible. There are people like that and they are very popular
with the media. People get that stereotype and then they dont think that Christians are
just like everybody else. (S. H., personal communication, September 23, 2014).
Bad publicity can cause an entire culture to be stereotyped. For example, after the 9/11 attack on
the World Trade Center, the American public and even the media was very quick to prejudge
people who looked of Muslim descent. American Muslims came under attack from their fellow
citizens. Of course, the hate crimes were not simply against Muslim Americans, but included
anyone else who looked the part (Hussain, 2011). This can affect self-concept because, first and
foremost, it hurts and it causes people who are Southern Baptist to start judging themselves.
There is one group in particular that is commonly associated with the Southern Baptist
culture: the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), seen in Figure 2, is a seventy-person Topeka,
Kansas-based congregation that is known for
spreading its anti-gay message via picketing at
funerals, including at funerals of fallen military
servicemen and women (Barrett-Fox,
2010/2011). Despite the Baptist Church name,

WBC has been denounced by the Baptist


World Alliance and the Southern Baptist
Convention.

Figure 2 One of the Westboro Baptist Churches


famous protests.

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This group causes Southern Baptist culture to be perceived radically. Suzanne made a
good point in the interview:
All stereotypes stem from truth. I think there have been enough Christians who act like
that. Its just become a misconception that thats how all Christians are. Not everyone is
like that. We have our beliefs. Thats like any culture or religion. (S. H., personal
communication, September 23, 2014).
This relates back to the idea that perceptions can affect a persons self-concept. When a culture is
perceived to be a certain way, the culture can actually start to form to the views of others.
Psychology has an idea called demand characteristics. Demand characteristics can be defined as
basically as possible as: aspects of an observational setting that cause people to act as they think
that they should. This fits to describe why people start to form to their perceived behavior.
Another common misconception of the Southern Baptist culture is that they are very
conservative as far as religious issues go. In 1960, the Southern Baptist Convention went through
a campaign people called the Conservative Resurgence. Basically, the Convention saw that it
was headed down the wrong path, towards a liberal stance, so they re-aimed and restructured the
Convention to reflect more conservative and biblical views.
Are these stereotypes reality? There really isnt an unbiased way to answer this question.
From my observation of the culture, the majority of the Southern Baptists are not like the
Westboro Baptist Church. I have encountered a few on the University of Kentucky campus who
are extreme in their beliefs. Like Suzanne stated above, All stereotypes stem from some truth
(S. H., personal communication, September 23, 2014). That quote, for the most part, explains the
reality of stereotypes.

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Tying all these ideas together, Southern Baptist culture is commonly put down because
of the media and difference in beliefs. They hold very controversial stances on the role of
women, premarital sex, and homosexuality. The reality is that everyone holds an opinion, but its
not moral to prejudge someone just because they believe something different than you do.

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References
Barrett-Fox, R. (2010/2011). Anger and Compassion on the Picket Line: Ethnography and
Emotion in the Study of Westboro Baptist Church. Journal of Hate Studies, 9(1), 15.
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Children worshiping at Vacation Bible School. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2014, from
http://swdcma.org/?q=blog/goas-you-are-goingmake-disciples
Christian Century. (2006, December 12). North Carolina Baptist adopt strictest ban on gayfriendly churches. Christian Century, 123(25), p. 15. Retrieved October 10, 2014
Cook, A. L. (2010). The Denied Calling: A Look at the Role of Women in the Southern Baptist
Church. LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research, 3, 189.
Fairchild, M. (n.d.). Basic Christian Beliefs. Retrieved October 8, 2014, from About Religion:
http://christianity.about.com/od/christiandoctrines/a/basicdoctrines.htm
Fairchild, M. (n.d.). Southern Baptist Church Beliefs and Practices. Retrieved October 8, 2014,
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GotQuestions.org: http://www.gotquestions.org/become-a-Christian.html
Hussain, A. (2011, November). In the decade after 9/11. Politial Theology, 12(5), 697.

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Kirschbaum, J. (2007, October 31). One of the Westboro Baptist Churches famous Protests.
Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from
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Parker, K., & Parker, K. (2006, April 05). The ABCs of becoming a Christian. Retrieved Oct 10,
2014, from LifeWay: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/abcs-of-becoming-a-christian
Rosenbaum, J., & Weathersbee, B. (2013). True love waits: Do Southern Baptists? Premarital
sexual behavior among newly married Southern Baptist Sunday School Students. Journal
of Religion & Health, 52(1), 264. Retrieved October 10, 2014
Southern Baptist Convention. (2014, October 10). Position Statements. Retrieved from Southern
Baptist Convention: http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp

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