Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Pratt Street Parable: The Civil War and the SBC

I predict within the next 35 years that evangelicals of a Baptist persuasion will join together in the United States for the common purpose of Kingdom work. That's right. By the year 2050, the Southern Baptist Convention will no longer be in existence, and a broader, more kingdom oriented assembly of evangelicals will merge from what is is left of the southern Baptists, northern Baptists, Baptists of different persuasions on tertiary issues, and even non-denominational evangelicals interested in expanding the Kingdom through joint mission efforts. In other words, the Civil War of Christian separatists (ana-baptists) will have been lost.

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.


Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Ah, yes, Baltimore.

According to the footnotes of The Annotated From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, 19th Century Baltimore had the well-deserved nickname of "Mobtown" for its frequent riots. (And that was the reason M.Verne set his fictional/satirical "Gun Club" in Baltimore; apparently the city's Mobtown reputation extended as far as France.)

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

P.S. Didn't the Southern Baptists originally schism from other Baptists in defense of a certain Peculiar Institution regarding Animate Property?

A Peculiar Insitution still defended as Godly(TM) by certain MenaGawd in cult compounds in Moscow, Idaho?

Beth Duncan said...

You leaving the convention meeting early, before everything wraps up?
I'm glad you're staying in the SBC. We need balanced, Godly people to stay, just as yourself.

Wade Burleson said...


I'm at lunch. I will be there for the afternoon session.

It ends at 5:00 pm

Anonymous said...

Praise God I probably won't be alive then and have to witness the fiasco. Its bad enough today.

The Govteach said...

I too thank you for being there in Baltimore. I hope you had some crab cakes. :)

As I said earlier, most of my career was spent teaching in Deep East Texas, government and economics to high school seniors.
One rare year, I was called upon to teach an AP American History course and made the mistake of mentioning that the SBC had come out of a dispute on slavery in 1845.
I was visited the next week by a local SBC minister who asked me please not to discuss the " slavery" issue again, as most of the kids had asked him if " it were true."
The trouble is, I never had the chance to teach AP American History again. This was close to my retirement and the senior classes were quite large giving me 7 periods of Gov/Eco the remainder of my career.

Anonymous said...


You should have known that Baptists believe in teaching "Selective History" as it suits them.

The Govteach said...

Anonymous 1:43,

I took the conference as a courtesy. The minister's children had graduated years earlier. I had never met him, even though I had taught his kids.

If I had taught the AP History course in the future, I would have spent an entire day discussing SBC and slavery....

Beth Duncan said...

Is it just me, or are a couple of the resolutions passed by the SBC this year more Republican honoring than Christ honoring?
Isn't that getting being a Biblical conservative and a political conservative mixed up?

Wade Burleson said...

Nope! Not just you Beth. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Wade-
Wonderful post - love the historical tie-in.

I noted what I believe to be a small error in your timing of Lincoln's inaugural. Knowing your penchant for history and accuracy, I believe you will appreciate an opportunity to correct it.

Lincoln was inaugurated March 4, 1861 - not in January 1861. The modern presidential inauguration date of Jan 20 did not begin until FDR and the ratification of the 20th amendment.

I don't think this changes the core elements of your parable, but thought you would like to know.

Tim Snider
Glencoe, OK

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Is it just me, or are a couple of the resolutions passed by the SBC this year more Republican honoring than Christ honoring?

Beth, don't you know that "GOP" stands for "God's Own Party" or "God's Only Party"?

Don't know what acronym they can use for "Tea Party", however...

Aussie John said...


In this country, many whose understanding of what a follower of Christ is as orthodox as is possible to be, and yet various intimidatory, or, accusative methods are used to remove them from being able to contribute, because they will not align themselves to pressure groups and parties.

Some of the methods would be proudly used by criminals,defying any resemblance to that of disciples.

Such treatment, from people who would claim sinless perfection,or, works sanctification, often psychologically breaks good men and women, creating lifelong, ongoing hurt to their families, of which I can immediately bring to mind several.

This is the "church" to which we want to introduce new members? I think not!

Steve said...


You are referencing the the wrong title, my friend.

Your post should be called:

The Pratt Street Parable: The War Of Northern Aggression and the SBC

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Wade said; "I predict within the next 35 years that evangelicals of a Baptist persuasion will join together in the United States for the common purpose of Kingdom work."

Personally, I don't think so. There are too many distinctive differences even among those currently of a “Baptist persuasion” to allow such a merging to take place in the future in my opinion. That would be nice but there will continue to be those who go further to the left and hopefully those currently labeled as “Southern Baptists” will remain more distinguished as those who hold The Word of God as their standard and not concede ground in that regard.

I hope we Southern Baptists do evolve into a body that portrays the love and grace of Christ as well as trying to maintain the righteousness of God with less hypocrisy and will become less identified with the geographic “south”. But I can’t imagine us ever seeing those of all “Baptist persuasions” conceding our differences and becoming “one” denomination.

But I am indeed no prophet.

Christiane said...

Hello, RRR

I read your words "trying to maintain the righteousness of God" and tried to think what that meant. I could assume some different possibilities, but I thought I would ask if you could please clarify those words a bit. Thanks, in any case. And God Bless.


Aussie John said...


I'm reminded of the words of Martyn Lloyd Jones some years ago:

“I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith. It is this preaching of the ‘good life’, or being ‘a good little gentleman’, and of viewing religion as ‘morality touched by emotion’." - Martyn-Lloyd Jones

Anonymous said...


"trying to maintain the righteousness of God"

Great question and thank you for holding my feet to the fire for depicting my feelings like that. I know it could sound hypocritical for me to even propose that we can "maintain the righteousness of God" but please do consider that I said "try".

I believe that God holds us accountable to try to live like Jesus. Nobody CAN live sin-free but Him. But He gave us high standards, especially in Matthew chapters 5-7, that He expects His followers to strive to obtain. So I do that although I can never succeed in fulfilling it. I can only try to be obedient to God’s Spirit within me and seek to have the heart of God in control of my heart.

"We" Southern Baptists, like all people, fall short of reaching God's standards of righteousness. But in spite of our failure, I do personally believe that today’s Southern Baptists have a reputation for "trying" to adhere to the heart and writing of God's Word; meaning that we hold Scripture as sacred with all of its complexities and mysteries and ambiguities while seeking to be sensitive to the voice of God’s Spirit dwelling in us.

I believe that Southern Baptists have a reputation for striving to not compromise what we read in the Bible for the sake of social expediency which is so very prevalent in today's world in particular. We hold Scripture as our “reed” or “plumb-line” and strive not to allow “feelings” or “reasoning” to rule that may directly conflict with the literal portrayal of God’s Word in writing. I understand how all of our interpretations, etc., are often at odds with each other but again, I personally believe that Southern Baptists are known for striving to do this. Many churches or groups are not as adamant about this.

Hope that explanation makes sense. It’s my best attempt to explain what I meant to express.

Christiane said...

thank you for your reply, RRR

it helps when I ask folks to clarify because I come from another faith tradition and words don't always mean the same thing between traditions, which makes it harder to try (I like that word) to understand others who are different from oneself

I do think our 'witness' to others is how we can honor God in that our whole lives are meant to be lived 'in the light' of Christ

so often we fail in our witness, but then I think it is very important that the world see us praying:
'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

in that way, we also witness to Him: our humility before God and our trust in His mercy are not the same as behaviors interpreted as arrogant finger-pointing at the sins of others . . . which the world has come to see as 'hypocrisy' in many Christian people

oh, we all finger-point at others, but let us acknowledge it as weakness and the sin of pride, and let us all kneel before a just God trusting in the great mercy of Our Lord Christ who saves us from our sins . . .

it's hard to try to live by 'being perfect' and we will fail often,
but we have a model in the honesty and humility of the publican in the temple whose simple prayer for mercy we know was pleasing before God . . .

Anonymous said...


I always am inspired by your emphasis on God's love, grace and mercy. That is an aspect of our Father that we often under-emphasize due to our placing "works" as a higher priority. It’s true that we often point out the weaknesses of others, not ourselves, as being the priority in our relationship with God.

But we can distort both. My point was that we should continue to point out "repentance". The presence and power of The Holy Spirit within us should result in a changed life and mindset where we recognize the disgusting sins within US and are motivated to surrender those over to our Father and seek His help in removing that from our life. This is the aspect of the Gospel that I fear is being compromised by the church today as it seeks to make people "feel good" about their current lifestyle and not promoting a desire to change to be more consistent with God’s righteousness.

I'm sure we're in agreement but perhaps express it a bit differently. Thank you for your dialogue.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

“I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith."

This explains that story about a Muslim at the SBC seminary.

Because these days, who is more ferocious about Public Morality and Ethics than Islam?

Mark said...

The baptist wars will not cease because it is a history of splits. It is part of being a non denominational denomination which is both a strength and a weakness.