At Ease in Zion: a Social History of Southern Baptists, 1865-1900.
Nearly four decades since its original publication, the University of Alabama Press has once again made available a book that students of southern religion and Baptist history will find useful. Written as a doctoral dissertation at Vanderbilt University and published in 1967 by the Vanderbilt University Press, Rufus Spain's study of the social attitudes of Southern Baptists joined a handful of other works published in that decade to launch what historians now consider an important sub-discipline of religious history.
Concerned mainly with the three decades following the Civil War, Spain uses the minutes and reports of the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the minutes, reports, and newspapers of twelve state conventions (ex-Confederate states plus Kentucky) to ascertain how Southern Baptists integrated their understanding of Christian faith into southern society. In other words, "Did Baptists think of themselves as Baptists first or Southerners first" (p. 11).
After a beginning chapter outlining the South's political and social problems during this tumultuous period, Spain devotes three chapters to attitudes toward and relationship with African Americans. In the main, Spain concludes of this relationship that "the Baptist view of race was the southern view" (p. 126). In a chapter on "economic problems," his conclusion is the same: "the denomination was not greatly concerned" (p. 148). The temperance movement, however, did generate excitement and activity, and Southern Baptists welcomed various methods to control strong drink. Spain devotes a chapter to temperance, one that follows a more general chapter on "social evils" such as Sabbath breaking, gambling, crime, and prize fighting.
The last chapter of the book, titled "Personal Morality," is brief but important. Spain argues that Southern Baptist faith during these years is best described as an "intensely personal matter." White Baptists in the South considered the conversion of individuals central to their understanding of Christianity and responded to cultural changes and conditions with that perspective always in mind. Spain's ultimate conclusion, then, is not surprising: "[Southern Baptist] attitudes toward political, social, economic, and other problems of Southern society coincided with the prevailing attitudes of Southerners in general" (p. 213).
While the text of At Ease in Zion is unchanged from the original version, this edition includes a foreword by Samuel S. Hill. Hill briefly outlines Spain's work as a pioneering venture in the field and mentions the challenges and changes in scholarship since the book's publication. The question of how white Baptists in the South interacted with southern culture is a complex question, to say the least. Spain offers a simple answer, one that scholars today will find too narrowly researched and analyzed. That fact is not surprising; each generation builds on the work of the former. We are thankful to the University of Alabama Press for making available once again this important first voice to the subject.--Reviewed by Mark Wilson, doctoral candidate, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.