Alabama Baptists are a complex people. Although regarded as conservative
in both politics and theology, many Baptists became leaders of the 1890s
agrarian revolt, devoted partisans of the social gospel early in the 20th
century, and ardent advocates of the New Deal. Complexity has also characterized
the denomination's race relations. For nearly five decades half its members
were slaves, while many other members owned slaves. Thus, interaction of
black and white Baptists created a unique religious setting in which people
who were members of the same churches interpreted the gospel of liberation
in dramatically different ways. After the Civil War, Baptist churches in
the South divided into white and black congregations. Only white congregations
remained part of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose members are known
as Southern Baptists. Black congregations became part of the National Baptist
Convention, and their history is a separate story deserving future study.
Despite social and cultural conflict Alabama Baptists helped tame a
chaotic frontier, sustained a sense of community, created opportunities
not available in secular society, shaped Alabama politics, and obtained
religious dominance seldom matched in U.S. history.
Wayne Flynt's balanced, exhaustively researched book is the first about
Alabama Baptists to be written by a professional historian. Publication
in 1998 marks the 175th anniversary of the Alabama State Baptist Convention.