Wednesday, June 25, 2008

National Baptists, Part 3 of 3

The old National Baptist Convention of the U.S.A., Inc. (NBC), first led by E.C. Morris, is the second largest Baptist body worldwide. In 1992 it reported over 30,000 congregations and an estimated 8.2 million members. By 2008 that number had fallen to 7.5 million. Today the “Incorporated Convention” is headquartered in Chicago and has seven general boards.

Since the boards formed the convention instead of the other way around, the incorporated convention has since 1915 had other boards assert control over their property or act independently. This has been a constant irritation to the NBC’s presidents, who regularly remind the boards that the convention owns and controls all their property.

The presidents traditionally serve as long as life and health permit. One of the strongest presidents of the 20th century was Joseph H. Jackson who served 1953-1982. His refusal to honor a 1955 convention vote on presidential term limits resulted in a schism six years later. The split was also precipitated by a desire for more orderly church life, higher standards for pastoral leadership, and, perhaps most important, a more theologically liberal and progressive approach to the civil rights movement.

In 1955, the same year that NBC president J.H. Jackson invoked a technicality to retain his presidency, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a bus boycott in Montgomery resulting in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Jackson had little sympathy with King’s methods, and his autocratic leadership alienated many in the NBC.

Gardiner C. Taylor became the point man for the progressives. In 1960 they held a rival convention and called themselves the true National Baptist Convention. At the next year’s NBC meeting, the progressives attempted to take the platform by force, and a violent confrontation resulted in an accidental death.

In November of 1961, thirty-three delegates from fourteen states met at Cincinnati and by one vote formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention of America. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., and now in formal cooperation with the American Baptist Churches, their number grew to 290 churches by 1963 and 1,420 by 1977. In 1991, they reported 2.5 million members, and in 2000 reported 2000 churches with still 2.5 million members.

In the early 1990s, a spiritual gifts movement within the NBC, Inc. led to another schism led by Bishop Paul S. Morton. In 1994 this group, drawing from all the National Baptist groups, formed the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, International, headquartered in New Orleans. Their first conference in the Louisiana Superdome drew 25,000 in attendance. This fellowship emphasizes charismatic theology, women’s ordination, corporate worship, and an episcopal hierarchy.

Harper, Keith. Class notes, HIS5130B: Baptist History, Spring 2008.
McBeth, Leon H. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville: Broadman, 1987, pp. 776-89.
Murphey, Cecil B. Dictionary of Biblical Literacy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989, pp. 142-3.
Torbet, Robert G. A History of the Baptists. 3rd ed. Valley Forge: Judson, 1963, pp. 355, 455, 501, 529.

Websites: Wikipedia: “National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc; “National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; Progressive National Baptist Convention; Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship,”