The New York Times did a couple pieces recently on denominations that have been historically hostile to blacks but that are now embracing them. The first focused on the Latter-day Saints (LDS; a.k.a. the Mormons), the second on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The former refused to allow blacks in leadership roles and discouraged proselytization to blacks in general while the latter split from Northern Baptists over slavery and opposed the Civil Rights Movement. While both denominations have been making strides toward tolerance over the last few decades, I'm wondering, why the increased attention now? It seems to be mostly about numbers. The SBC is in trouble, taking big losses, and is quite open about its outreach to minorities being about growth, not social goodwill per se. The LDS has had lots of growth, though. Is it about PR? Perhaps, but I think there is more going on with both denominations that is less obvious. Historically, smaller denominations tended to merge as a way to lower costs and to inflate membership roles. The LDS and SBC are too big and ideologically rigid for merger with other denominations to be an option so membership is the only way for them to increase numbers. This drive was likely exacerbated by the economic downturn. More often than not, social progress is driven by economics rather than by idealism. Think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Economics, not beneficence.
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