Streets of (Black) Gold: Texas Baptist Churches and Oil, 1900–1925

One of the most significant evangelistic and financial campaigns in American Baptist history remains relatively understudied: the discovery of oil in Texas from 1900–1925 and the subsequent Texas Baptist response. This paper will analyze how Texas Baptists interpreted the discovery of oil, including both the financial windfall and the community upheaval initiated by the boom. I will argue that Texas Baptist churches responded along two planes: one internal and one external.

On the internal plane, Texas Baptists recognized oil profits as a tremendous opportunity for Kingdom investment. They funded efforts such as new hospitals, schools, church buildings, and vocational ministers at an unprecedented rate. Further, they strengthened existing institutions (and this financial support was one contributing factor to the survival of certain institutions during the depression years). The state’s––and region’s––Christian landscape was forever changed due to this internal investment.

However, they also saw oil fields as environments swimming in sin. The very opportunity that contributed to gospel advance through financial profit also accelerated deteriorating ethical community standards. In response, on the external plane, churches developed new ministries to the scores of people flooding into their communities, including specific evangelistic efforts situated within the oil fields (focused primarily on young, single men and older “drifters” that often constituted the labor force). Closer to home, boomtowns transformed overnight with the introduction of bars, brothels, and rising crime rates. Churches functioned as institutional strongholds amid a rapidly changing world.

Rationale: While scholars of Texas history have examined the sociological and economic significance of oil booms from 1900–1925, these evaluations have often been methodologically distant from (or indifferent to) how Baptists themselves spoke of the moment’s religious significance. This paper, instead, will examine how Baptist churches in particular articulated the biblical, theological, and missiological significance of the boom. By investigating the internal discussions of Baptists across the Lone Star State (primarily through their periodicals), we see how they understood and undertook their responsibility before God and neighbor.

4 thoughts on “Streets of (Black) Gold: Texas Baptist Churches and Oil, 1900–1925”

  1. better for a Texas regional meeting
    This scholar of Carl Henry studies (supervisor of one of the other of this year’s proposal submissions; prior year presenter) has turned his attention to an innovative look at a different and more narrow topic that still is intended to serve as a representative window on larger relations among Texas Baptists. The paper is worth hearing in some ETS context. If the window opened upon something wider than Texas Baptists I would count it more compelling as a candidate for this section’s open session.

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  2. Solid Abstract
    Topic fits our section; paper should be on the ETS program. I’m open to having this paper with our session. As we’re meeting in Texas this year, the paper would be appropriate.

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