Baptist Church Life: Houston and Beyond

This post contains foundational research which I use in the followup, How to Speak Like a Baptist.

The Baptist Faith

Baptists form a major branch of Protestantism distinguished by baptizing professing believers only (believer’s baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and doing so by complete immersion…Baptist churches also generally subscribe to the doctrines of soul competency (the responsibility and accountability of every person before God), sola fide (salvation by faith alone), sola scriptura (scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice)…

Shared doctrines would include beliefs about one God; the virgin birth; miracles; atonement for sins through the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus; the Trinity; the need for salvation…grace; the Kingdom of God…and evangelism and missions.

Baptists believe that faith is a matter between God and the individual (religious freedom). To them it means the advocacy of absolute liberty of conscience.

Baptists (Wikipedia)
“Wade in the Water.” Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, North Carolina near the turn of the 20th century.

Black Baptists

In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention formed to support slavery. It later supported Jim Crow laws, voter suppression, and other racist acts. June 20, 1995, they issued a resolution “renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery.” This happened after my characters time traveled to Egypt.

As early as the late 18th century, black Baptists began to organize separate churches, associations and mission agencies. Blacks set up some independent Baptist congregations in the South before the American Civil War. White Baptist associations maintained some oversight of these churches.

In the postwar years, freedmen quickly left the white congregations and associations, setting up their own churches…in 1895 they united as the National Baptist Convention. This organization later went through its own changes, spinning off other conventions. It is the largest black religious organization and the second-largest Baptist organization in the world.

Baptists are numerically most dominant in the Southeast  In 2007…45% of all African Americans identify with Baptist denominations, with the vast majority of those being within the historically black tradition.

Baptists (Wikipedia)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. Elzie Odom standing at the pulpit in front of the Mount Olive Baptist Church congregation. Arlington, Texas; 05/20/1990.

[Baptists] are thoroughgoing Protestants. The sermon is the centerpiece of the worship service, and the minister’s central task is to preach the Word, or Gospel message of Jesus Christ, which calls for a distinctly individual, inward response….Baptist churches receive an individual member only when that person has made a commitment of faith in his or her own right. The ritual of baptism, whether in a church font or in a body of water, is the critical outward marker of the new believer’s entry into membership in the church…Baptist churches are typically unadorned, and the worship service has none of the liturgy found in Catholic or Episcopal churches. Black Baptists share these practices with white Baptists, though the churches are institutionally separate….

The music of black Baptist churches contains cadences and rhythms of distinctly African origin, and the black Baptist understanding of baptism as entry into the community can be traced to certain African rituals. The engagement of the churches in matters of politics and social justice can also be seen as a survival of the African religious view in which all life is sacred. Thus, in contrast to many white Baptists who have insisted on separating “church and state,” black Baptists have heralded emancipation as the “Day of Jubilee,” planned protests and taught citizenship classes in their churches, and invoked religious imagery to give social activism a higher meaning, as exemplified in King’s sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” or in the songs of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Singers.

African American Baptists
Martin Luther King Jr, Washington DC, from National Park Service, Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site

Today “the black church” is widely understood to include the following seven major black Protestant denominations: the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the Church of God in Christ.

The Black Church (PBS: God in America series)


Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Downtown Houston. Built 1875. Website.

The oldest Black Baptist church in Houston is the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, historically a part of the Fourth Ward and now in Downtown Houston….Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, a black church, was originally established in the Fourth Ward in 1872 but moved to the Third Ward in 1981.

Christianity in Houston
James D. Ryan Middle School. The school opened [in 1958] as a school only for African-Americans; it was desegregated by 1970.

1960 the African-American population numbered 215,037, 25.7% of the city population. In the central city, from 1950 to 1960, the African-American population increased by 20,299. Their percentage of the total population increased during that period from 23.4% to 31.1% because large numbers of white people left the central city. In 1970 the African-American population numbered 316,922, 25.7% of the city population. By 1980, Houston had 440,257 African American residents, making it one of the largest black populations in the country.

History of African Americans in Houston


1 Comment

  1. How to Speak Like a Baptist – Out of Egypt

    August 30, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    […] For my post consolidating researching on Black Baptist churches, please see: Baptist Church Life: Houston and Beyond. […]

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