Review: The Exiled Generations
Carl L. Kell, ed. The Exiled Generations: Legacies of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2014. 173 pp. ISBN 978-1-62190-112-9.
The Exiled Generations is the fourth book in a series documenting the trauma of the Southern Baptist shift toward fundamentalism. Past volumes include a study of the rhetoric used by conservative leaders to swing the Southern Baptist Convention toward fundamentalism in the late twentieth century (Kell and L. Raymond Camp, In the Name of the Father, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); personal stories of moderate to liberal Southern Baptists ministry leaders who lost their jobs and church communities during the struggle (Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006); and essays on Baptist identity from contributors who had been educated as Southern Baptists but are now leaders in the growing number of moderate Baptist churches and institutions across the South (Against the Wind: The Moderate Voice in Baptist Life, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2009). For this final book of the series, Kell compiled eighteen personal accounts from the next generation. The contributors were in their teens or younger (some not even born yet) when the controversy within the Southern Baptists began in 1979, but all identified closely with Southern Baptist life as a child or youth.
Most of the contributors are the sons and daughters of Southern Baptist denominational leaders from across the South. Stories of witnessing their parents choose to leave or being forced out of jobs during the last decades abound. A few contributors experienced animosity, resistance, and job loss themselves due to their differences with fundamentalist institutional politics. Essays exhibit a mix of pride in the past generation’s work as Southern Baptists and shock at the animosity their parents and the contributors themselves have received from current Southern Baptists for speaking on behalf of women in ministry, liberal arts education, due process in Baptist polity, and other once-sacred principles they claim to have learned in Southern Baptist churches as children. Some contributors continue to worship in moderate Baptist churches, others have switched denominational affiliations, and a few admit to being “nones,” the growing group of religiously unaffiliated in America. Few, however, regret leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, and all the essays express wariness toward religious institutions. In an essay entitled “The Purging,” for example, G. Wesley Shotwell avows he was “purged of the idolatry of days gone by…from putting ultimate trust in human institutions” after watching his father lose his job at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (13).
While the book is intended for moderate Baptist audiences, it is also a helpful resource for scholars interested in lived religion, religious conflict, and religious hegemony, especially in the post-modern era. While most contributors write in first-person narrative form, James Hill Jr. and Brian Kaylor also analyze their experiences through the lenses of identity crisis and sociological research on expunging heresy, respectively. Contributors struggle to make sense of feeling deeply formed by their religious upbringing as Southern Baptists, but now no longer recognize the denomination as it exists today. As a result, many essays loosen the definition of “Baptist” from institutional affiliations; contributors speak of recovering earlier Baptist traditions and classical Christian liturgy to define what “being Baptist” means for them. A postscript by Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Seminary of Kansas, theologically challenges the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in its pursuit of a new definition of Baptist. If this book is a fair depiction of larger trends, moderate Baptists will continue to debate and shift their Baptist identity and the shape of Baptist life for some time.
The Exiled Generations reflects larger religious shifts in United States religion and post-modern unease with institutional control, trust, and authority. The book proposes that many Baptists, especially in the South, have experienced an expulsion from their prior denomination and Christian faith, rather than self-selecting a new denomination or self-exempting from religious affiliation altogether. Baptists may not be alone in this experience, although wider research is necessary to interpret the personal experiences of these essays as a regional trend. Martin Davis, the final contributor, experienced similar controversies and crises—different issues, but similar rhetorical ploys—as church member among Southern Episcopalians and United Methodists. The controversy and crisis of identity among the generations of Southern Baptist exiles may provide lessons for other American Protestant denominations undergoing internal political conflict.