In raw numbers, there are more “Southern Baptists” than any other Protestant denomination in the United States. More than 16 million Americans are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, with most of them spread throughout the southeastern United States.
The denomination was formed in the antebellum South, in 1845, by Georgia Baptists who split from the Northern Baptists on the issue of slavery. Southern Baptists supported slavery, and interpreted the Bible as condoning the institution.
Southern Baptist pastors preached a benevolent paternalism to slaveholders, while telling slaves to accept their lot, and obey their masters. Most white Baptists in the South were staunch segregationists after the Civil War, and that attitude lasted deep into the 20th century.
On political and social issues, Southern Baptists tend to loathe ‘big government.’ They are strongly opposed to abortion, gay rights, and immigration. Women are prohibited from becoming pastors of the church.
The national organization – the Southern Baptist Convention — is a cooperative association with other state Southern Baptist Conventions. At the state level, local Southern Baptist churches pool resources in the furtherance of church needs.
The Executive Committee of the national Southern Baptist Convention, based in Nashville, Tennessee, controls seminaries and other Southern Baptist institutions throughout the country, but does not manage state conventions, or local churches, either administratively or ecclesiastically.