Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in History

Department

Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Charles R. Wilson

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Payne

Third Advisor

Ted Ownby

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

The schism between American missionary and anti-mission Baptists of the 1820s and 1830s stemmed from an ideological disagreement about how Baptists should interact with the rest of society. While anti-mission Baptists maintained their distance from "worldly" non-Baptist society, missionary Baptists attempted to convert and transform "the world." Anti-mission Baptists feared that large-scale missionary and benevolent societies would slowly accumulate money and influence, and that they would use that influence to infringe on the autonomy of local congregations and the religious liberty of the nation. While histories of this topic often portray anti-mission Baptists as obscure and paranoid of an imagined "law religion," I argue that they were not paranoid. Rather, their observation of missionary Baptists' efficient, outward-looking world view, embodied in the novel benevolent societies, helped them foresee the gradual growth of evangelical influence in society. While most Baptists did not shift their attention towards legislating their own moral values on society through secular law until the late nineteenth century, the roots for this shift were in the business-minded benevolent societies of the early nineteenth century. Far from being an obscure offshoot of the past, anti-mission Baptists represented—and represent—an alternative to the active involvement of conservative evangelicals in politics. Much like their dissenting American Baptist ancestors of the colonial era, they carried on the legacy of religious liberty and local church autonomy despite the radical changes of the early nineteenth century.

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