Baptist denomination a key influence in American culture

UMHB is a Baptist university, but many students do not know the history of this denomination and how it has affected America and still impacts culture.

The Oct. 12-13 university conference, “Baptists and the Shaping of American Culture,” analyzed the place of Baptists within the broader currents of American religious history. In 1850 there were a million Baptists, but by 1996 more than 35 million Americans identified themselves as Baptists.

Professor of Christian studies, Dr. Carol Holcomb’s goal for the event was to have an insightful discussion on the Baptist denomination.

“The purpose of the lecture was to bring together scholars from all over the country to discuss the role Baptists have played in American culture,” Holcomb said.

Junior Christian studies major Sarah Stadler attended the lecture because Holconb asked her Introduction to Church History class to assist in welcoming the speakers and helping to check in guests.

“Students should attend lectures like this because it challenges them to think on an intellectual level. It gives the student a broader knowledge of the subject because there are multiple sides to a topic,” Stadler said.

One lecture “Baptists and Race,” sought to explain how Baptists have molded the country through all races and genders.

Dr. Adam Bond is the assistant professor of historical studies at Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.

Bond, along with Holcomb and Dr. Pamela Smoot of Southern Illinois University, served on a panel to share their thoughts on Baptists.

They discussed how the denomination is ethnically and culturally diverse.

“I came because I am very interested in helping to create an environment in which we can have a much broader conversation about Baptist history and Baptist life than the ones that I’ve experienced in different settings,” Bond said.

African-American Baptist leaders were one focus of the lecture hosted by the College of Christian Studies.

“Being here is the opportunity to represent a tradition that I study, the African-American Baptist experience,” Bond said.

Baptist history is not something that students take the time to actually study, but according to Bond, it is essential.

“One of the reasons that I believe Baptist history, in general, is important for students to know is because the Baptist story is very American. You talk about the early Baptists in places such as Virginia being persecuted for their beliefs, being considered outsiders, and their move to becoming prominent participants in the American story. That’s a big part of the American experience,” Bond said.

Stadler thinks that Baptists should take the time to fully understand what they actually believe.

She said, “I think that just like students living in America study American history and similarly, ones living in Texas study Texas history, Baptists should know how their faith shaped American history.”

Holcomb agrees that students, even if they aren’t Baptist, should know more about the denomination.

She said, “Many churches today, especially nondenominational churches, have been influenced by Baptist practices. The study of any religious tradition can help you understand your own faith practices.”

Author: Elissa Thompson

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