Decline of Southern Baptists may be greatly understated?

From the Letters to the Editor section of the latest edition of Religion in the News

Thanks to Andrew Manis for his informative article on falling Southern Baptist membership. [Baptists Shrink, Religion in the News, Vol. 12, No. 2] Actually, the trend may have started before it appeared in the numbers he cites.

When the Baptists officially apologized in 1995 for supporting slavery, and tried to move away from their exclusivist racial heritage, they began to affiliate existing Black congregations as a way of speeding up the reconciliation. By 2008, 20% of congregations were ethnic minority and a million members were African American. This led to apparent membership increases, but was in fact an artifact of the accounting procedures. Without those bonus members, the decline would have appeared well before the current crisis. A congregation-by-congregation tracking of heritage SBC churches would probably show an even more dramatic pattern of decline.

Ron Stockton

University of Michigan-Dearborn

The Winter 2010 issue of Religion in the News includes articles on the Tea Party and the religious right, the Pope angling for Anglicans, Scientology’s annus horribilis, and the ELCA and human sexuality. Here’s one further wrinkle to the ELCA story.

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