Baptists Yesterday  |  Bruce Gourley

Bruce Gourley, online editor for Baptists Today and Executive Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, provides observations about Baptists of yesterday that can benefit Baptists today.


You Might be Surprised as to What "Stonewall" Jackson Privately Thought of Baptists

White Southern Baptists, at least among the upper crust and including many common folk, were as ardent as any Southern whites in believing the Confederate States of America was God's chosen nation tasked with forever preserving white supremacy and black slavery. After all, this was God's will for the human race, for the Bible said so, literally.

To say they were wrong about God, the Bible and humanity is a colossal understatement. And ever since the Civil War, many white Baptists of the South, still clinging to a literal Bible, have been wrong on many other issues.

But back in the Civil War era, white Southern Baptists were in the process of transitioning from backwoods believers to, at least in some instances, respectable folk. Christian nationalism seemed to go hand in hand with public respectability. And for many Confederate Baptists, there was no greater hero than the former Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. 

Killed in action in May 1863, Jackson became more legendary in death even than he had been in life. His body gone from this earth, he became the model Christian warrior and gentlemen, venerated as a saint.

During his wartime service, the Presbyterian Jackson (having attended a Baptist church in his youth) often spoke fondly and positively of Baptists, even contributing money to help distribute Baptist newspapers among his soldiers.

So it came as no surprise when Jackson's first biographer in the spring of 1864 wrote of his reason for writing a book about the sainted general:

My prime object has been to portray and vindicate his Christian character, that his countrymen may possess it as a precious example, and may honor that God in it, whom he so delighted to honor.

Saint or not, Jackson's papers contained his true views of Baptists. His biographer was warned not to publish what the general had said about Baptists, as it would be offensive, but did not heed the advice.

What did Stonewall Jackson really think about Baptists? Read the rest of the story here.


A Courageous New Jersey Pastor; Ice Cream and Strawberries In Idaho

Two recent news stories offer glimpses of Baptist life in New Jersey on the East Coast and Idaho in the Rocky Mountain West.

In 1721 the Cape May, New Jersey legislature introduced a bill that would punish those who “denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the inspiration of Holy Scriptures, etc.” A Baptist pastor took a courageous stand and the law was never passed.

Far to the west and many years later, before Boise State University was ... an ice cream parlor. But not just any ice cream parlor. This "elegant little ice cream salon" in the 1860s evidenced Boise's love of the cold, creamy delight and helped bring together the many churches in Boise for annual ice cream and strawberry festivals for a number of years.




Robert Smalls, Forgotten Baptist Hero

In recent months I have written about the former African slave (and Baptist) Robert Smalls (1839-1915), who became famous for a daring exploit during the American Civil War, became a leading Baptist layman in the South during the Reconstruction era, and today is one of the 19th century's largely-forgotten Baptist heroes (at least in Baptist circles at large).

Within South Carolina black Baptist life, however, Robert Smalls is experiencing a renaissance during this 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. "The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls" is a part of the S.C. State Museum’s traveling exhibits program. Having traveled around the country during the past three years with visitation of more than 75,000 persons, the exhibit is now en route to Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort, South Carolina, the church were Smalls is buried. Read more about the exhibit that honors the life of this remarkable Baptist layman.


Conference: Baptists, Civil War and Emancipation

The annual conference of the Baptist History & Heritage Society is May 20-22 in Richmond, with the focus on Religion and the War Emancipation and Reconciliation.

The Virginia Baptist Historical Society and Center for Baptist Heritage Studies, both under the leadership of Baptist historian Fred Anderson, are co-sponsors.

For more information, read Fred's article about the event.


Soapstone Baptist Church

The Pickens Sentinel newspaper of Pickens County, South Carolina has a wonderful story about a small, historic church, Soapstone Baptist Church. The church was founded after the Civil War by freed blacks and has survived to this day, in the face of many trials.

Read the story here