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According to God's Plan: Southern Baptist Missions and Race, 1945-1970.

According to God's Plan: Southern Baptist Missions and Race, 1945-1970. By Alan Scot Willis. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2005. 260 pp.

Alan Scot Willis presents an honest, balanced, and forthright account of how the Southern Baptist hierarchy tried to persuade their congregations and pastors of the rightness and biblical correctness of an integrated society. After the Second World War, it became painfully apparent to missionaries that the second global conflict was predominately a race war, and, not surprisingly, the victorious Allies often experienced rebellions in their colonies. Southern Baptist missionaries, mostly from segregationist states, suffered the indignity of facing the anger of the people groups they came to evangelize and minister--that the Communists exploited at every opportunity. Willis quotes from letters written by progressive, moderate, and segregationist writers, letters which stir the emotions of readers with pride, disappointment, and disgust. Southern Baptist leaders held progressive views, and defended them in print, but the great dilemma for the leadership was how they could bring racial progress and healing to the region without appearing politically, socially, and theologically liberal.

The author asserts that although the present-day Southern Baptist Convention has shifted to the right, the work of previous leaders serving between 1945-1970 has remained. Southern Baptist efforts toward racial reconciliation, which began in earnest after the war, continue among African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans to the present. Many will read with interest of missionary efforts among the Islamic African peoples, and how missionaries feared the segregationist system would drive Africans deeper into Islam.

Despite Willis's best efforts not to appear judgmental, he did not always succeed. Italics or quotation marks inserted by the author amid quotes from letter writers alert the reader to his skepticism regarding the correspondent's motives. In addition, the author falls into the trap of assuming because liberal and progressive elements took the high ground on race in the past, they must be politically and intellectually correct as to related matters in the present. He laments that the present Southern Baptist leadership refuses to take racial healing further by defending left-wing political causes that often tout the well-worn cliches of victimization. By implication, Willis appears to assert that conservatism in religion and politics is essentially racist.

In a well-organized, readable, informative, and enlightening narrative, Willis chronicles the racial progress made in the Southern Baptist Convention--and eventually, in its autonomous local churches. Research based on denominational periodicals, both past and present; archival sources; and numerous secondary works demonstrates his thoroughness. In the end, Southern Baptist leaders changed the racial views of their members when they successfully "showed to a society that endowed segregation with divine approval that segregation was a sin the eyes of God" (p. 200).--Reviewed by James S. Baugess, adjunct instructor in the humanities, Columbus State Community College, Columbus, Ohio.
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Author:Baugess, James S.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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