The Christian Life Commission, Human Rights, and Contested Orthodoxy

When the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Southern Baptist Commission was created in 1947, it was tasked with providing moral resources for the denomination for a number of issues in the public square. The most visible and volatile topic was that of race relations. No stance sparked as much controversy as their work in the public square on behalf of integration and civil rights. However, entity leaders such as Jesse Weatherspoon, Hugh Brimm, and A. C. Miller also advanced a commitment to peace and anti-militarism in the pages of the organization’s magazine LIGHT. Central to both topics was a theology of human rights drawing on the “brotherhood of man” and the commitment that the twin threats of militarism and racial superiority were affronts to humanity.

This paper will first set out the basic contours of the CLC’s theology of human rights as depicted through their anti-militarist stance and calls for peace before showing how the expansion of this brotherhood rhetoric to the cause of civil rights caused a backlash of white supremacy. While scholars of southern religion, particularly those studying Southern Baptists, have understandably focused on the role of the convention in civil rights, whether advocating in limited instances for integration or militating against equality, less attention has been paid to the denomination’s statements for peace. Further, by examining the two issues of racial equality and anti-militarism, scholars gain a window to the successes and failures of denominational elites to craft a theology of human rights applicable to public policy and its acceptance by the individuals in the pews. As such, it charts the ongoing and contested attempts to define “orthodoxy” within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Keywords: Christian Life Commission, Human Rights, Integration, Civil Rights, Militarism, Race, Jesse Weatherspoon, Hugh Brimm, A. C. Miller

5 thoughts on “The Christian Life Commission, Human Rights, and Contested Orthodoxy”

  1. can stir the pot
    Questions of race and pacifism are worth exploring in the context of the SBC. The context is narrower than evangelicalism but might serve as a microcosm of the larger world of ETS.

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  2. Needed topic
    Topic fits; abstract is solid enough to go somewhere on ETS program.
    I find this interesting as well. Paper could be paired with the Gartenhaus paper; both look at the SBC and its relationship to culture and the world; both could be seen as microcosms for how the broader evangelical community in North America related to these issues.

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