The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980

Texas Baptist Leadership, the Social Gospel,
and Race, 1954-1968
JOHN W. STOREY*
IN JUNE, 1968, THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, MEETING IN Hous-
ton, Texas, passed a much-publicized "crisis statement." This dec-
laration, coming on the heels of the Kerner Commission Report on
urban unrest and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., acknowl-
edged that the nation was in the midst of a social and cultural upheaval,
and conceded that while the Baptist faith had always stressed the
essential dignity, worth, and equality of all men, the denomination had
generally violated those ideals with regard to blacks. Having acknowl-
edged flawed church practices in the past, Southern Baptists now re-
solved to work toward the elimination of conditions within society that
restricted equality of opportunity and that contributed to racial preju-
dice and discrimination. "We rededicate ourselves to the proclamation
of the gospel," affirmed the resolution, "which includes redemption of
the individual and his involvement in the social issues of our day."
The achievement of this statement of social concern had not come
easily for Southern Baptists. Indeed, it came only after a generation of
sharp internal tension. The denomination's initial calm reaction to the
Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) soon
broke down in face of the changes required by the Court's action, and
Southern Baptists became embroiled in a bitter debate over social in-
volvement, especially regarding race. The turmoil within the church
can probably best be displayed by tracing and studying the responses
of several prominent Texas Baptists, such as the editor of the state's
Baptist journal, the pastor of the largest Baptist congregation in the
world, a distinguished professor at Southwestern Seminary, and other
influential denominational workers. Although many Texas Baptists
*John W. Storey is associate professor of history at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.
1Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, Tennessee, 1968), 67-68, 69 (quo-
tation); cited hereafter as Annual, SBC. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy occurred
while the Southern Baptist Convention was in session. The Senator was shot shortly after
midnight, June 5, and died at 1:44 P.M. on June 6. This tragedy undoubtedly increased the
feeling of urgency about social unrest felt by many convention members.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101207/. Accessed November 25, 2014.