The Southern Baptist Convention of 2014 is being held in the Baltimore Convention Center which sits on the south side of Pratt Street near the west end of downtown. Most Southern Baptists meeting this week for the annual convention have very little understanding of the history that took place right outside their meeting hall during the Civil War. Truth be known, what occurred 150 years ago could be seen as a parable for Southern Baptists today.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, the south seceded from the Union, with secession beginning before Lincoln was even inaugurated. On Lincoln's way to Washington in January of 1861 for the inauguration, Alan Pinkerton, Lincoln's friend and bodyguard and eventual founder of the United States Secret Service, guarded the President-elect as he traveled from Illinois to the nation's Capital. Pinkerton had discovered a plot to assassinate the President in Baltimore. Changing the schedule of arrival, the President's train, pulled by a steam locomotive, arrived at the Baltimore train station on the east end of Pratt Street (now a free Civil War museum). As was the custom in that day, the engine was disconnected from the railroad cars and horses were then called upon to pull the train west through downtown Baltimore along Pratt Street to the train station in Camden Yards, the precise place where the Baltimore Oriole stadium is now located. Once at Camden, the President's railroad car was re-attached to another steam locomotive and the train went south to Washington. Lincoln arrived safely for the inauguration, but when the press discovered that Lincoln was wearing a disguise as he went through Baltimore on Pratt Street, they hounded him for his 'lack of courage' the rest of his political career. His enemies even called Lincoln a 'coward' because he secretly passed through Baltimore pretending to be somebody else.
Fast forward three months to April 12, 1861. Fort Sumter is fired upon by Confederate forces and the Civil War officially begins. Lincoln refused to call it a 'war' those first few weeks, preferring to use the word 'insurrection.' However, he was concerned that the nation's Capital was defenseless against attack, so the President issued an immediate call for 75,000 volunteer militia to report to Washington in defense of the Capital. Volunteer troops from Massachusetts answered the call and went by train through Philadelphia to Baltimore. At that same station on east Pratt Street at which Lincoln arrived three months earlier, the volunteer Union troops arrived on April 19, 1861 exactly one week after the beginning of the Civil War.
Baltimore was a slave city, and Maryland was sympathetic with the south. Rather than allow the train to be pulled by horses from the east end of Pratt Street to Camden Yards on the west end of Pratt Street, the volunteer Union troops left the train station and began marching west on Pratt. The streets were soon filled with conservative southerners who resented their 'liberal' brothers from the north. Words and catcalls ensued. Then some in the crowd began throwing rocks. Finally, someone fired a shot.
The Union volunteer militia troops opened fire. When the smoke settled, 12 civilians and 4 Union solders were found dead, with several other civilians and soldiers wounded. It happened right in front of the Baltimore Convention Center. It was the first bloodshed of the Civil War. Nobody died during the firing on Fort Sumter. The Union soldiers who died on Pratt Street were the first of what would be an estimated 620,000 soldiers who would die during the Civil War - more casualties than all other American wars combined. Very few Americans know the names of the people who died on Pratt Street on that April 19, 1861 spring day. But what America does remember is who won the war. The north did. The Union survived.
The parable of Pratt Street in terms of the Southern Baptist Convention is similar: Very few people will ever know the names of those devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have been verbally shot, spiritually wounded, or otherwise personally hurt by the words and actions of idealogical (notice, not theological, but idealogical) southern conservative Baptists who prefer to call Christians who disagree with them 'cousins' instead of 'brothers.' Southern ideologues much prefer to fight than join the union.
Some have asked why I stay in the SBC instead of leaving. My answer is complicated, but to reduce it the foundation for all my reasoning, I would respond to such a question in this manner:
"There is coming a day when the union of God's people will survive the Civil War begun by ideologues. I may wind up being one of those unnamed casualties on Pratt Street, but I will have done what I can to defend the principles of liberty, equality and charity while resisting the practices of forced doctrinal conformity, racial and gender patriarchy, and religious bigotry. "Goodbye, Baltimore. It's been interesting.