Thursday, June 12, 2008

Origins of the National Baptist Convention (1 of 3)

English: Rev. R. H. Boyd (1843-1922) and famil...
Rev. R. H. Boyd (1843-1922) and family. From E. C. Morris, 1855- , Sermons, Addresses and Reminiscences and Important Correspondence, With a Picture Gallery of Eminent Ministers and Scholars. Nashville, Tenn.: National Baptist Publishing Board, 1901. (Wikipedia)
With the coming of freedom among black Americans after the War Between the States, most Baptists of African heritage chose to plant their own churches independent of their white brethren. These churches became important social networks for evangelizing black Americans, rebuilding and reuniting families, literacy and education, and when needed, political work. Next to family, the church became the most important social institution for black Baptists.

The church provided identity, racial solidarity, and a platform for political action. In the last third of the nineteenth century, black Baptists grew tired of the Northern Baptist churches ordering them around and manipulating their direction. Accordingly, with a vision to “reach the world for Christ,” African-American Baptists formed groups to serve their churches.

In 1840, the American Baptist Missionary Convention had formed among Northern black churches. The Northwestern Baptist Convention and Southern Missionary Baptist Convention, formed in 1864, the latter in in Richmond, VA. The three merged into the Consolidated American Baptist Convention in 1866, but the difficulties of the Reconstruction era caused this first national body of black Baptists to lapse in 1877.

In November 1880, with 150 delegates, the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention formed at Montgomery, AL, the vision of William W. Coley of Virginia, a veteran Southern Baptist Negro missionary to West Africa. It was focused on foreign missions, especially to West Africa. Six years later, W.J. Simmons, in an effort to unite all black Baptists in a full denominational body, organized the American National Baptist Convention with 600 delegates from seventeen states at St. Louis. Unable to match the Coley group’s abilities in foreign missions, Simmons’ group turned its focus to home missions.

In 1893, at Washington, D.C., the National Baptist Educational Convention formed to promote training for pastors and missionaries and to provide guidance for the large number of black colleges and schools primarily in the South. This group of specialty mission agencies, all trying to become a national body, were themselves hindering mission growth through their Northern-style society approach.

Therefore, on September 28, 1895, all three groups merged at Atlanta, GA, as the National Baptist Convention of America (NBC), with a Foreign Mission Board, a Board of Education, and a Home Mission Board. Elias Camp Morris of Arkansas was elected first president.

Lewis G. Jordan was elected to lead the Foreign Mission Board, and he started with nothing except three chairs and a record book. With no funds, garnering only limited cooperation from the churches, and hamstrung by a stubborn image of predecessors’ mismanagement, Jordan relocated the Foreign Board from Richmond, VA, to Louisville, KY. His vigor and determination in a few years made the Foreign Board comparable to any in America.

The Home Mission Board, headed by Richard Henry Boyd and first located in Little Rock, AR, was soon tasked with publishing denominational literature, but not without much caution and discussion. Some of the NBC churches liked purchasing literature from the American Baptist Publication Society or the Sunday School Board of the SBC, and the effort and expense of establishing a publishing arm was daunting. President E.C. Morris, however, pushed the new denomination to publish its own literature in order to nurture its own traditions.