The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South
Southern Baptist Missionaries and the Shaping of Latin American Evangelicalism
- ISBN: 9780881468366
- Published By: Mercer University Press
- Published: May 2022
Several recent historical volumes analyze North American missions through a global lens. The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South: Southern Baptist Missionaries and the Shaping of Latin American Evangelicalism is one such work. In this important volume, João Chavez analyzes how Southern Baptist missionaries’ “deployment of Christian Whiteness” impacted evangelicalism—and specifically Baptist life—in Brazil from 1882 to 1982 (5). He argues that the missionaries’ captivity to Southern culture affected their message and methods, whether they realized it or not. The Brazilian context, with its racial hierarchy, provided fertile soil in which the missionaries’ idea of White supremacy could grow.
Chapters at the beginning and end of the book are helpful in framing Chavez’s argument, which he convincingly develops—especially through the first half of the volume—as he narrates the history of the Brazilian Baptist Convention. Chavez details the many Confederate connections of early Southern Baptist missions leaders to Brazil. This is a history that needs to be told; too often denominational histories sanitize the story, regarding missionaries as “unqualified heroes” (204). Throughout the book, Chavez uses a wide variety of primary and secondary sources to argue his case. He reviews not only institutional records, but also missions periodicals and missionary correspondence to present a fuller picture of denominational history. Long footnotes reveal the genesis of this project as a doctoral dissertation.
Chavez persuasively argues, then, for early missionaries’ cultural captivity to White supremacy and narratives of the Confederacy. In later years, missionaries sought to maintain control of denominational institutions rather than hand them over to indigenous peoples. This was true in many mission fields in the 20th century, as missionaries were hesitant to undertake the difficult work of devolution. Was this reluctance to hand over control always the result of White supremacy? This is a question about which historians might disagree. Chavez makes a strong case for answering it in the affirmative.
Chavez argues for continuing Southern Baptist influence on Brazilian Baptists in the late 20th century through to the present day; his evidence here is both convincing and troubling. In chapter 5 he also details a split that occurred among Brazilian Baptists over the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, filling a gap in English-language scholarship on this significant 20th-century movement. The influence of Chavez’s dissertation advisor, Douglas Weaver, who authored Baptists and the Holy Spirit: The Contested History with Holiness-Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements (Baylor University Press, 2019), is clear here.
Notably, in the introduction to his book, Chavez adds four elements to the Bebbington quadrilateral, positing an octagon of evangelical characteristics: White supremacy, male privilege, homophobia, and conservative politics join with conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism (4). Chavez’s strongly worded additions are bound to stir reactions from scholars, whether positive or negative. At the least, they will provide fodder for ongoing scholarly conversations about the nature of evangelicalism and the role of activism in historical writing.
The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South is well-written throughout, with occasional memorable metaphors such as the following: “The ideological ghost of the geographical area formerly known as the Confederacy, sometimes holding hands with the Holy Spirit, both haunted and blessed the Brazilian brothers of the SBC” (28). Overall, this fascinating book provides a needed addition to scholarship on missions work, Southern Baptists, Brazilian Baptists, and transnational evangelicalism. It demonstrates how a scholar can use the history of a denomination not as an end in itself, but as a critical tool for constructing broader analysis. Other scholars should take note of Chavez’s work and consider similar studies based in other regions of the world.
Melody Maxwell is associate professor of Christian history and director of the Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies at Acadia Divinity College.Melody MaxwellDate Of Review:April 3, 2023