Monday, May 24, 2010

Baptists and postbellum foreign missions

Part of an ongoing series on Southern Baptist history . . . 

Among the Northern Baptist churches, the old Triennial Convention changed its name to the American Baptist Missionary Union in 1846, focusing on foreign missions alone in the Northern society model. Almost immediately there was trouble. The framers of the union wanted to protect their autonomy (read: power), and an executive board was chosen to run the union. Membership was $100 for lifetime membership, so that meant the only people who could be members and run the Union were rich elites. 
While the Union looked good on paper, the membership requirement kept churches from any input. Only individuals had influence. That made the churches angry since the board was not working for them, and church giving dropped dramatically creating an intractable financial crisis that threatened their missionaries. An 1854 change to a $10 per year dues to be a delegate to the annual meeting got more people participating, but the churches still were not behind the Union. Despite the problems, work expanded in Burma and India with women taking an active role in the missionary work.
J.B. Taylor
In the South, the local Baptist churches were energized for foreign missions. Richmond, VA, pastor James B. Taylor (pictured) consented to serve as the first Corresponding Secretary of a new Foreign Mission Board, giving two days a week to the Board which would be based in Richmond.

During Taylor’s tenure (1845-1871), the Board increased its missionary personnel from 2 to 81 missionaries abroad despite the South’s economy being wrecked by the War. This was amazing. The Board’s first fields were China (1845), Liberia (1846), and Sierra Leone (1846). 
Taylor appointed the board’s first single woman missionary, Harriet Baker, in 1849. The work fascinated Southern Baptists. The China mission was much more successful than West Africa, where many missionaries died of malaria only months after arrival so much that finally the Board placed a moratorium on further deployments there. Still, the work continued to expand into Nigeria (1850) and Italy (1871). In the first twenty-five years under Taylor, with no model to work from, the Foreign Mission Board had begun a great work.
H.A. Tupper
The Board’s second Corresponding Secretary was Henry Allen Tupper (pictured) (serving 1872-1893), who opened fields in Mexico (1880), Brazil (1881), and Japan (1889). Like his predecessor, Tupper was also open to sending single women as foreign missionaries, and a single college graduate from Virginia named Lottie Moon was appointed to China under his leadership. Between 1845 and 1920, two-thirds of the SBC mission force in China were women. Nearly every one of them had a high school diploma and some collegiate training. The Board also appointed five female medical doctors during the last half of the nineteenth century.

Under the third corresponding secretary Robert J. Willingham (1893-1913), fields opened in Argentina (1903), Macao (1910), and Uruguay (1911).