Comparison of Southern Baptist & American Baptist Beliefs

by Claire McAdams

The Baptist tradition dates back to the 17th century when minister John Smyth and his small congregation broke away from the Church of England. They objected to what they believed were elements of Roman Catholicism within the Church of England and sought to establish a church purged of Catholic trappings. Today, the Baptist denomination ranks as the fifth-largest Christian denomination in the world. Numerous subgroups exist within the Baptist tradition, and in the United States, two of the largest subgroups are the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Churches USA.

Baptists and the American Civil War

The Southern Baptist Convention and the American Baptist Churches USA are both derived from an earlier Baptist organization called the American Baptist Home Mission Society. In the lead up to the American Civil War, Baptists – like most of the country – were hotly divided over the morality of slavery. In 1845, the American Baptist Home Mission Society split in two over the issue with Baptists in the south forming their own organization: the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptists in the north operated within a group of loosely connected societies until 1907, when they formed the Northern Baptist Convention. Today, the group calls itself the American Baptist Churches USA. The Southern Baptist Convention has since issued a resolution declaring that they "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin."

Confessional Statements

A central tenet of Baptist thought is the indomitable autonomy of the local congregation. As such, participation by Baptist churches in any association or convention remains voluntary. Because of this, the American Baptist Churches USA has not issued a confessional statement to which all members of the organization must adhere. Instead, they put forth a non-binding identity statement which articulates its key theological ideas. In contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention issued its confessional statement, the “Baptist Faith and Message” which delineates the boundaries of Southern Baptist doctrinal beliefs.

Roles for Women

The American Baptists and the Southern Baptists differ in their stance regarding the roles of women in the church and family. The American Baptists maintain that all leadership roles within the church are open to women who possess the talents to fulfill them. Additionally, they support an equal relationship of mutual respect and love between husband and wives in the home. Conversely, while the Southern Baptists affirm the equality of men and women in terms of value, they hold the view that the Bible restricts leadership roles in the church to men only. They also assert that the Bible requires a hierarchical structure in the home in which husbands assume a leadership role over their wives and wives offer gracious submission to their husbands.

Missionary Efforts

Both the American Baptists and the Southern Baptists embrace the idea of the Great Commission and respond with vigorous missionary efforts. The Southern Baptists created two entities, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, through which they support thousands of missionaries throughout the world. The American Baptists, in addition to supporting their own missionaries, also participate in the ecumenical efforts of organizations such as the World Council of Churches to further fulfill their evangelistic goals.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Claire McAdams has been writing professionally since 2006. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and also online at and She holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from Belmont University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Political Science from King College.

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