Baptists Look to the Missouri Past to Heal Present-Day Divisions


Some Baptists are looking to Missouri history as a possible source of healing of the divisions between them.

The Missouri Plan, which ended a century ago, emerged after the Civil War as a bridge between Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists – now known as American Baptists.

The dual-alignment plan allowed congregations to give missions offerings to one of the two groups or have it divided among them by an association staffed by both northerners and southerners.

Now there are Baptists, inspired by that age of cooperating, hoping its spirit can be resurrected.

“How can we be just Baptists again, without an adjective, like we were in those years after the Civil War?” said Jerry Cain, chancellor of Judson University, an American Baptist school in Illinois.

Cain is a proponent of using the Missouri Plan as a model for future Baptist work.

“I would like to see a new spirit in Baptist life that would be inclusive and cooperative and encouraged Baptistsness rather than the adjective in front of the word Baptist,” he said. “Missouri set that pattern after the Civil War and evidently did it quite successfully.”

Cain said he learned to “walk both sides of the street” when he worked at William Jewell College in Missouri before heading to Judson. William Jewell has maintained a bit of the Missouri Plan spirit as it often alternates presidents with backgrounds from Southern and American Baptist life. Cain said that example could revive Baptist work and witness.

“Right now we’re probably a little bit ashamed to be Baptists because of our divisiveness and our exclusion of folks,” he said. “I would like for us to once again be proud of being Baptist and know what it means to be a Baptist and be proud of our history and what we brought to this culture.”

Historic figures like Roger Williams and Martin Luther King Jr., can be claimed by all Baptists, he said.

“We need to remember our history and what we brought to this country — and that we can do it again in the future.”

Cain suggested one practical step might be cooperation on a shared conference. In particular, he sees the annual fall adult retreat at Windermere Baptist Conference Center as a step in that direction. Last year’s cosponsors included an area of the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Heartland, Churchnet, The Baptist Home and Missouri Baptist Foundation.

“Let’s just pick one conference that we can all agree on and work together to put a public face on Baptistness,” he said.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Brian Kaylor

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