Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Southern Baptists . . . and Northern

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

After the Schism of 1845 that created the Southern Baptist Convention, both groups were forced to reorganize. But the split was not clean cut, and mixing of both groups would continue until the 1890s. In the South, many churches were lukewarm toward the new SBC because the meeting in May 1845 was supposed to involve only talking about what to do, not actually creating a new convention. Add to that the South’s new devastating poverty. In 1860, 13 of the 15 wealthiest states were in the South. In 1900, not one of the 35 wealthiest states was Southern. Three to four billion dollars in capital was lost by the South in the War, and they were left to deal with it.

Home Missions

The American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS) (1845) based in Philadelphia was the least affected by the Schism of 1845. An outgrowth of the old Bible and Tract Society (1824), they continued to serve both the Northern and Southern churches with Bibles, tracts, Sunday School literature, commentaries, study aids, family Bibles, and the Baptist Cyclopedia. Their booming business gave rise to colporteurs, book sellers who came door to door selling literature. Colporteurs were forerunners of the modern evangelists. Their work in the Confederate and Union camps during the War Between the States helped spread the Great Revivals among them. Their work among Northern, Southern, and newly forming African-American churches also raised literacy levels until the 1890s when Southern white and black Baptists began to set up their own publishing houses.
Ever wonder why all the denominations except the Baptists reunited after the War Between the States? The answer is found in the tension between the Northern and Southern Home Mission Boards. It was called mutual encroachment. The Northern board said, “You stay where you are and we will expand wherever we want.”
The American Baptist Home Mission Society (1832) had been the seat of troubles that led to the Schism of 1845, and afterwards they focused on sending missionaries to the West. John Mason Peck was sent out by the ABHMS. Though now largely forgotten, he was a great man of God who planted churches, schools throughout the Midwest despite the Society’s neglect of support for him on the field. The ABHMS financed many church buildings and after the War helped the Freedmen’s Bureau by helping build schools. The US Government and ABHMS worked closely in the South (using student builders)  to finance construction of many historically black universities such as Morehouse College, Howard University, Shaw University, and Jackson State University. This work for freed Blacks by Northern Baptists and the conquering US Government caused great resentment among Southern Baptists. In fact, the ABHMS was authorized under military law to take ownership of Baptist properties in the South for their own use. Unfortunately the ABHMS got overextended financially in the post-War period. Immigration to the North was hitting over one million a year and in the West, the Indians being placed on reservations needed ministry. The question became, “Just who or what is our Home Mission Field?”
The Southern Baptist Home Mission Board formed with headquarters in Marion, Alabama, closer to the Frontier. But they were soon consumed with questions about their vision and direction, asking, “What is Home?” How far north will we go to plant churches? We are going West. Will we go East and North to the great cities filled with new immigrants? Do we plant churches among Blacks? Indians? Church planters also had more preferable options rather than working with the HMB. They could partner with their local association or their local church, or the Northern society rather than the HMB. Then there was money. The HMB was competing with the Foreign Mission Board for funding – and losing.
Henry L. Morehouse (pictured), the president of the Northern board (the Home Mission Society), sparred in the newspapers with Southern Baptist leaders. Morehouse wrote, “Ours is not the ‘Northern society,’ it is the American society,” and he did not care whether Southerners liked it or not, they would stay in the South as long as they wanted.

Despite Morehouse's obnoxious attitude, some Southerners suggested the HMB be abolished. Of the 21 state Baptist conventions or associations at the time in the South, only seven were cooperating with the HMB which had only $28,000 in receipts in 1882 and 40 missionaries, mostly in Indian Territory. While most of the Baptist state conventions in the South worked with the Northern society, the HMB was nearly defunct. Isaac T. Tichenor and other leaders realized that if Southern state conventions and associations did not stop cooperating with the ABHMS, there would soon be no Southern Baptist Convention.
The Home Mission Board needed a change, so in 1882, Isaac T. Tichenor (pictured) moved the Board to Atlanta, a thriving New South city. Tichenor had been a Confederate sniper in the War, and he was bitter about the South’s loss. A popular preacher, he had been president of Auburn University, and in terms of organizational skills and vision, the best president the Home Board ever had. Therefore, he worked to align all the state bodies with the HMB. Ten years later, every home missionary to whites in the South was aligned with the HMB or its state conventions. They now aimed at evangelization of immigrants, Appalachia, urban areas, native whites, blacks, and Indians. Tichenor’s successes garnered him the epithet, “Father of Cooperation.”
After ten years of hard work, the HMB had overcome the rivalry with the ABHMS. Finally on September 12, 1894, a meeting was held at Fortress Monroe, VA, to define their mutual cooperation and territory. Earlier overtures by the Southern board had been ignored, but at that time the ABHMS agreed to meet on a basis of equality. The Northerners were looking for a way out of the South. They were overextended and needed to relinquish responsibilities with some dignity. With one million immigrants a year arriving from Ireland, China, and Southern Europe, they want to let the South go.

The Northern Society wanted to retain control of the black universities, and the Southern Board agreed to help fund them as well as cooperate in the training of black ministers in what became the New Era schools. Blacks resented the Northerners telling them what to do and wanted to lead themselves. As for other areas, the two groups agreed not to seek funding in areas where the other already had work in place. The net of the Fortress Monroe Conference? The Northern Baptists relinquished their responsibilities in the South, and the Southern Baptists got the Northerners out of their region.