At a time when celebrating history seems to have fallen on hard times, a visitor to the offices of the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) is immediately reminded upon entering our suite of the history of Baptists in the Natural State.
It’s hard to miss the photos on a large wall of past editors who have served Arkansas Baptists faithfully for more than 118 years. Below the photos of editors are representative front pages, beginning with the immediate predecessor of the ABN – alongside one of the first-year editions of The Baptist Advance (before a name change to Arkansas Baptist).
It is somtimes said, “If these walls could talk, the stories they would tell.” In the case of our Baptist newspaper – or news service as I like to refer to it because of today’s ever-changing technology and delivery methods – our wall actually does talk … sort of.
You can read past stories about Arkansas Baptists anytime you choose by visiting arkansasbaptist.org/archives, where a link is provided to ABN archives. Through a partnership ABN has with Ouachita Baptist University, past editions of the ABN are being digitized. While more are being added every month, there are now a great number of past editions ready to be viewed online and downloaded (free of charge).
We live in a time when social pundits can’t get enough of pointing out and dragging out every past blemish and sin in our country’s history – and for that matter our Southern Baptist denomination.
I guess it supports and fits the progressive narrative that the founders of our country, or our denomination, were bad and ill-intentioned, so therefore we are somehow as a people illegitimate. Therefore, we must repent, and repent often, and what’s more, consider making reparations.
It is well-documented that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded in 1845 when Baptists in southern states split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery.
In the case of our Southern Baptist denomination, the men and women, the country and society in which they lived in 1845 was a very different place – and included the prejudices of that time. They were prejudices that existed for many years after the founding of the convention that carried into pulpits and pews well into the 20th century and – some say – still exist in areas of the country today.
Thankfully, since the 1940s and especially beginning in the late 20th century until present day, Southern Baptists have sought new members among minority groups and have become much more diverse – in fact, are one of the most diverse evangelical denominations.
While the SBC is still predominately Anglo, the racial and ethnic diversity of Southern Baptists today is broad.
According to sbc.net, Southern Baptist “cooperating” congregations (churches and church-type missions) include: Anglo, 40,400; African American, 3,929; Hispanic, 3,506; Korean, 907; Haitian, 529; Native American, 435; Chinese, 269; Filipino, 188; multi-ethnic, 299, and 20-plus other ethnic and language groups, 1,460.
Baptist Press reported in 2013 that the number of non-Anglo congregations in the SBC had increased by more than 60 percent since 1999.
God continues to work in the SBC in spite of our flaws, resulting in the denomination becoming one of the largest – if not the largest – missionary-sending organizations ever known to man. Millions upon millions of people of all ethnicities have been reached for Jesus through efforts of Southern Baptists.
If you want proof in Arkansas, a quick review of archived copies of the ABN reveals vividly God’s mighty and unyielding hand on Baptists in the state over the years. We should consider ourselves a very blessed people!
My prayer is that God will continue to bless the efforts of Southern Baptists – in spite of our human flaws – and use the denomination for His glory in ways unseen and yet unimagined.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.