How the Missouri Baptist Convention Shifted Their Identity to the Southern Baptist Convention's New Hegemony

Date of Graduation

Fall 2006


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Martha Finch


In the schism of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) from 1998-2003, two conflicting sociological identities arose that resembled the schism of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) from 1979-1991. These identities, which may be classified as formalism and informalism in the language of anthropologist Mary Douglas, suggest acute concern for group boundaries and margins and the danger pollution represented to both groups, especially for Baptist formalists. To eliminate pollution from within the boundaries, formalists in the MBC began to elect presidents with the power to appoint formalists to the boards of ministry and educational agencies throughout the state. In response to this, informalists in Missouri formed their own separate state Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, allowing continued support to five agencies that were in litigation with the MBC over trustee appointment and control of the institutions and their financial resources. In addition, pollution has a binary counterpart that is concerned with purity. One educational agency in Missouri faced the purifying of their orthodoxy and orthopraxy by formalists. While the schism lacks a conclusive end as the strife continues through legal action, and conflicts between formalists and informalists continue throughout the state over matters of education and rhetoric, the MBC shifted their identity to the SBC's tighter boundaries. Informalists were able to maintain control over the state conventions in Virginia and Texas despite the formalist shift in the SBC. Yet informalists were not able to maintain control in Missouri. Discovering how and why this formalist identity shift occurred in Missouri and not elsewhere is this study's purpose.


Southern Baptist Convention, Missouri Baptist Convention, purity and danger, pollution, identity shift, schism, informalism, formalism

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© David James Rice