is unchanged, the Scriptures are unchanged, the Savior is unchanged, but
changing opportunities require changed methods. Whether we realize it or not we
live in a new day
. . . . Our country sustains a new relation to the whole world. [The
World War] has thrust us into the position of world leadership
. We cannot evade
our new responsibilities. We are under inescapable obligation to serve the whole
world. In rendering such service old programs will not suffice
. We must enlarge
and multiply and vitalize with the spirit of Christ our institutions, missionary,
educational and benevolent, in order to measure up to the world needs which
constitute the call of God. We have the greatest opportunity of the ages to preach
the gospel to all nations. We will sin against God and against humanity if we do not
enter the open doors set before us. The Seventy-Five Million Dollar Campaign
our response to the challenge of these world opportunities."
The Baptist Standard
, June 19, 1919
"The program is broad. It takes in every form of Kingdom activity. . . . we have
come to the time of a sound and well-balanced denominationalism
J.B. Gambrell, SBC President
Established in 1845 primarily to support foreign and domestic missionaries, the
Southern Baptist Convention enjoyed uneven support throughout the South until the end
of the nineteenth century. By 1919, however, the Convention would confidently embark
upon its most aggressive, ambitious effort to date: a campaign to raise $75 million. The
$75 million goal was to be reached by the offerings of the Convention's three million
Southern Baptists over a five-year period, and the campaign was path breaking in a
number of ways. Most obviously, $75 million was a huge sum of money and the most
ambitious fund-raising goal yet undertaken by Southern Baptists. The campaign was also
groundbreaking for the denomination in that it was the first time the Convention made
direct financial appeals to the individual members of its churches, most of whom had not
previously contributed to its work. And finally, the campaign established a new trend in
which Southern Baptists would no longer choose whether or not to support the work of
individual mission boards but would make a general contribution to the Southern Baptist
Convention as a whole, the allotments to each Board to be determined by a select
committee of Convention leaders.
Up until this point in Convention history, churches and individuals affiliated with
the Southern Baptist Convention decided whether and how much to donate to its various
causes: foreign missions, home missions, seminaries, state missions, etc. The various
boards would advertise in the religious press and would send representatives into the
churches and associational meetings to report on the work being done and to request
financial support from the membership. Only a minority of church members made any
sort of contribution to the work of these Convention boards, and it would not have been
unusual for the membership to support the work of one board but not another.
During the nineteen-teens, after more than three decades of growth and
centralization within the Convention, calls for greater efficiency in managing the
Convention's work, including the use of budgets, began to be heard from some parts of
the Convention's territory. Part of the reason for this could be that the Convention saw
its leadership changing from mostly ministers in the late nineteenth century to laymen in
the early twentieth century. These businessmen -- women would not be allowed to be
Convention representatives until 1919 -- probably influenced the Convention's greater
emphasis on efficiency and budgeting with their repeated calls for "more business in
religion." 3 Influences from outside the Convention, particularly the recent experience of
World War I, had at least an equal affect on the decision to inaugurate the $75 million
campaign. An economic boom in the South resulting from the war -- cotton prices rose
significantly -- made Southerners optimistic about their economic future and willing to
pledge more than ever before to the support of their denomination's work. Furthermore,
the success of war bond drives impressed upon Convention leaders the potential of an
enthusiastic, concerted, large-scale fundraising effort.
Amidst little if any controversy, representatives to the 1919 Convention meeting
passed a resolution to raise $75 million for the Convention's work and appointed a
committee to direct the campaign. Headquartered in Nashville in the Sunday School
Board's building, this campaign committee would determine the allocations to various
Convention boards, would direct the large publicity campaign, and would oversee the
work of the campaign directors within each state, association, and local church. The first
months of the committee's work focused on the South-wide publicity campaign:
"To carry this message to the people, both the Baptist and the secular newspapers were
employed, along with millions of tracts, letters, posters, pamphlets, and charts. In
addition, denominational leaders, pastors, laymen, and women went everywhere
addressing conventions, associations, rallies, and churches in an effort to arouse and
enlist all Southern Baptists in attaining the goals that had been set."4
The enlistment campaign culminated in the weeklong pledge drive -- "Victory Week" -- at
the beginning of December. By the end of Victory Week, Southern Baptists had
promised to support their Convention's work to the whopping tune of $92.6 million.
"Big Business For Our King"
As mentioned above, the $75 million campaign marked a turning point for the
Convention's organizational structure. For the first time, churches donated money to a
general fund that was apportioned by a small committee of Convention leaders to support
all of the Convention's causes. Here is true incorporation as Alan Trachtenberg defines
it: a body of "stockholders" with extremely limited power over policy make financial
contributions to a huge pot that is controlled by a small group of managers. The quantity
potential can grow dramatically with this structure, achieving "far-reaching" ends, but the
result is a dramatically decreased potential for direct action at the local level. As early as
1909 the Religious Herald recognized and warned against this trend toward
"The real work of the Convention is no longer done by the Convention itself. It is
practically impossible, with the present organization and methods, and in the physical
conditions in which the Convention is frequently forced to meet, to deliberate about
anything. So it has come to pass that debate is practically unknown and conference is out
of the question. We are coming rapidly to the place, if we have not already reached it,
when we must rely wholly upon the Boards and standing committees to do our thinking
for us. This is to some extent both desirable and inevitable. At the same time we cannot
suppress the conviction that it is not best for us, or for the interests which we seek to
promote, that our great representative body should degenerate into a mere celebration, a
place for set and formal reports and addresses, a sort of spectacular gathering, full of holy
enthusiasm, it may be, but lacking utterly the deliberative element."
, May 20, 1909 5
As the Religious Herald intimates, the general Convention meetings had in effect become
stockholders' meetings by the early twentieth century, with the important decisions being
made by select "boards of directors." The $75 million campaign embodied the
Convention's trend toward incorporation to the greatest extent yet.
Spreading the Word
The 75 million campaign was an effort to sell the Southern Baptist Convention
and its program of work to every member of every Convention-affiliated church in the
South. As indicated by the fact that Southern Baptists pledged almost $20 million above
the $75 million goal, the publicity campaign was an overwhelming success.
What inspired Southern Baptists to pledge so much? While many factors should
be taken into account, the rhetoric of the campaign that appeared in denominational
newspapers reveals what were perhaps the deepest hopes and fears of Southern Baptists
encountering the modern age. Letters published in the Baptist Standard of Texas under the
title "What will the 75 Million Dollar Victory Do for Southern Baptists and the World"
provide telling examples of the ways in which Southern Baptists were thinking about this
united effort. In the words of letter writer Dr. George D. McDaniel, the campaign would
have three major byproducts:6
McDaniel's categories can be applied across all
the rhetoric surrounding the campaign. Southern Baptists believed that their fundraising
effort would benefit both the denomination and the world, and their drive for success
was, at least in some measure, predicated upon threats to their belief or criticisms of their
denomination from the outside.
- "Denominational solidarity" and "Denominational
- "the betterment of the world"
- "Those who have the truth will vindicate their right to be its custodian."
- "[Success in the campaign] will go far towards uniting our people and bringing
about that unity of spirit without which we shall never accomplish our mission in the
- "It will enlist thousands of men and women, boys and girls, who never did give
anything for denominational work. It will enthuse other thousands who have been
indifferent. I confidently expect great revivals and thousands of conversions as a result
of this campaign."
- "The great results will be not the money raised, but the courage that comes from a
consciousness that we are capable of great things."
- "Our whole Southern Baptist army must be mobilized."
The Baptist World
, July 31, 1919 10
- "Every righteous consideration that led us to enter the World War should
influence us now to dedicate all of our resources to world reconstruction."
The Baptist Standard
, June 19, 1919 11
- "All of our forces should go afield for souls. . . . All of our hearts are moved
afresh for the lost, suffering world by the tragedies of the last years. Every appeal of
earth and heaven is for us to go out after men and bring them to Christ."
General Director of the $75 Million Campaign 12
- "There have been many who did not regard us with proper esteem, as the Lord's
chosen. We can now compel attention."
- "We call this the day of Baptist opportunity, because of democracy's triumph.
True, but it is in Europe the democracy has flung aside autocracy and opened up the path
from the human soul to God. Europe's loudest call is to Baptists."
The Baptist World
, July 10, 1919 14
- "The primary test of our Baptist method of doing things is about to be made. Can
we, with our loose organization, surpass all other Christian denominations in the financial
campaign which will require co-operation of every Baptist in the South? This co-
operation will necessarily be voluntary co-operation. There will be no conscription, only
volunteers will serve. This campaign will prove the strength of our spiritual democracy. .
. . God is calling Southern Baptists to the spiritual leadership of the world."
Clearly as important to Southern Baptists as the causes for which the money was
raised was the vindication of their faith that they believed success would bring. Despite
the increasingly corporate structure of the Convention, they identified their denomination
as the most theologically and organizationally democratic. In a world now "made safe
for democracy," Southern Baptists were even more confirmed in their belief that their
Baptist democracy made them a chosen people of God. It was especially important to
hold fast to this belief in light of Baptists' realization that they lived in "a new day." An
editorial in the Baptist Standard admitted that "We hear much about the returned soldier
and his changed attitude toward religion." However, readers should be assured that "men
who came back unbelievers were unbelievers when they went in." The world was
changing around Southern Baptists. They responded by mounting the most vigorous
fund-raising campaign in their history.
During Victory Week at the end of 1919, Southern Baptists pledged to give $92.6
million to the Southern Baptist Convention over a 5-year period, a figure well over the
$75 million goal. When the campaign drew to a close in 1925, the Convention had
collected $58.6 million. One obvious reason for Southern Baptists' failure to meet their
1919 pledges was the financial depression that set in across the South soon after Victory
Week. Cotton prices plummeted from their wartime high during the early 1920s, the
years in which the Convention was collecting on its pledges.
But even this figure of $58.6 million was far greater than any Convention receipts
previously. The Foreign Mission Board in its 74 years of history had collected $12.5
million; during the 5-year campaign it almost matched this figure with its allotment of
$11.6 million. The Home Mission Board in its 74-year history had received $8.2 million;
during the 5-year campaign it gained $6.6 million.
The campaign also marked a turning point in Convention history in that began the
new trend by which the Convention itself collected money and disbursed it among its
various boards according to a centrally determined budget system. Soon to follow in
Southern Baptist life would be the Cooperative Program, the financial and budgeting arm
of the Convention that continues to manage the financial affairs of the Convention today.