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Southern Baptists  
 
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Baptists originated as a religious body in seventeenth-century England as a result of the Separatist movement. Puritans who believed in the principle of adult immersion in water as a confession of faith and espoused freedom of conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, the Baptists (sometimes called Anabaptists) separated from the Church of England. Over the years, many sects formed, often on the basis of differences over theological and social issues.

Although there were a few Baptists among the early settlers of the American colonies, the first Baptist Church in what is now the United States was established by Roger Williams, a great proponent of religious liberty and of the separation of church and state, who, after being expelled from Massachusetts, established a congregation in Rhode Island in 1635.

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During the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Baptists became a major American denomination. By 1800, there were more than 1200 churches organized in several associations, the largest of which was the Baptist General Convention.

In 1845, as a result of anti-slavery sentiment in the Baptist General Convention, churches in slave-holding states withdrew to form the Southern Baptist Convention, which cited biblical passages in defense of slavery. It has since grown to become the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, numbering about 16,000,000 members.

It has also come to be known as the most intolerant of the major American religious denominations, especially (but not exclusively) for its opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

Southern Baptist Fundamentalists

Because of the traditional Baptist belief in the individual conscience and in the individual's interpretation of the Bible, as well as a tradition of granting a great deal of autonomy to congregations, there was until the 1980s a wide range of beliefs among Southern Baptist members and congregations about social issues and theology.

However, after a prolonged and bitter struggle within the denomination between fundamentalists and relative moderates, the conservative fundamentalists emerged victorious and have proceeded to impose their will on the denomination as a whole, firing dissenting professors at denomination-supported colleges, universities, and seminaries; purging moderates from the denominational hierarchy; and expelling congregations that disagree with their interpretations of the Bible or that bless same-sex unions or appoint gay men as deacons.

Before the takeover of the denomination by fundamentalists, Baptists were great supporters of the separation of church and state, being leery of secular politics and wary of the government's intervention in matters of the spirit. Now, however, Southern Baptists are politically active and form an important constituency of the New Right, especially in organizations such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition.

Southern Baptists and Homosexuality

While most Baptists, even those not associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, tend to be conservative on social matters and tend to interpret certain biblical passages as condemnatory of homosexuality, only with the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by the fundamentalists have Baptists become especially noted for their hostility to--and obsession with--glbtq causes and people.

Not only do Southern Baptists accept as literally true the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality, but they have also declared that homosexuality is a "manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards." In addition, in increasingly shrill tones, they have linked homosexual behavior to a general moral decline in America and have declared homosexuality a threat to the traditional family, which they see as ordained by God "as the foundational institution of human society."

In the eyes of Southern Baptists, homosexuality, while not "the unpardonable sin," is particularly abhorrent to God, inherently sinful, and "outside the will of God." They believe that homosexuality is caused by unhealthy relationships between children and parents and that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. Hence, Southern Baptists have been in the forefront of supporting and promoting the "ex-gay movement" and reparative therapy.

Finally, and not surprisingly, Southern Baptists believe it is proper to discriminate against homosexuals in employment and other areas in order to protect the family and other social institutions.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Washington-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission lobbies against glbtq rights and maintains a website full of highly dubious "facts" about homosexuality and glbtq people.

Resolutions Concerning glbtq Issues

At their annual meeting, Southern Baptists regularly adopt resolutions on political and religious issues. In recent years, many of these have focused on glbtq issues.

In 1993, the delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution reproving newly elected President Clinton and Vice President Gore, both of whom are practicing Southern Baptists, for their efforts in ending discrimination against homosexuals.

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Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee is one of many large churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
  
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