First Baptist Church AtlantaPage address: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/government/faculty/Slocum/Slocum Travels/Slocum FBC Atlanta.html
First Baptist Church, Atlanta
I teach a course on Southern politics at MSU, and it includes a unit on the Southern Baptists. But although I grew up in the South, I was not raised in the Southern Baptist faith - and I had never attended a Southern Baptist church. My January 2006 visit to Atlanta gave me the opportunity to change that. After the SPSA conference had ended, I visited friends and relatives for a couple of days in Atlanta - and I attended Sunday worship at First Baptist Church Atlanta - one of the Southern Baptist 'megachurches' that many Southern (and some non-Southern) cities now have. My visit came on January 8, 2006, a very big day in the life of the church: the very first day in the church's new Worship Center, with a long renovation project on it just wrapping up. The pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, Dr. Charles Stanley, is very well known in Southern Baptist and other evangelical circles. He is the author of dozens of books, and is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
First Baptist Church Atlanta is in a former Avon cosmetics distribution center. This picture gives one a sense of just how enormous the church building is. The steps lead to the main entrance, and the hallway within runs probably at least one-half mile before one reaches the exit on the other side.
This is the main steps. The person walking down them is evidence of their massive size.
This is the other side of the church building, which is surrounded by multiple, very large, parking lots. The Atlanta police were directing traffic into the parking lot the day I attended. I would guess the police presence is a regular occurrence. The traffic and crowd were very orderly, but the sheer numbers of cars present probably made the police presence a wise idea.
This is the view from my seat, early in the service. Dr. Stanley is on the stage. Standing in the front row and acknowledging the applause of the crowd are U.S. Sen. C. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and his wife; they also are shown on the wide screen on the right. Chambliss, like most Southern Republicans holding federal and state offices, is adored by the religious right. In the South, Southern Baptists are almost everywhere prominent in conservative religious groups - so much so that political scientist Oran P. Smith concluded, in his 1997 book The Rise of Baptist Republicanism, that the Southern Baptist Convention and the Republican Party in the South are virtually indistinguishable in some circles. Since 1979, the fundamentalist/conservative faction has controlled the Southern Baptist Convention, and most moderates have left the convention or been forced out.
My camera caught an especially animated moment in the period of singing that occurred early in the service. The music minister is gesturing almost wildly, while the wide screen displays the text "Hallelujah! Jesus is alive!"
Dr. Stanley is delivering the message (in other churches, commonly called the sermon), which obviously was the centerpiece of the worship service, at least this day. The service began at 10:45 AM and lasted about 1 hour, 25 minutes. The message was about 50 minutes long, and focused on how God can help us overcome obstacles in life. There was virtually nothing overtly political in this message. However, a recurring theme was that people should seek to discern what God wants for them in life, and follow a path and plan laid out by God, with meek and complete submission. The rather authoritarian implications are unmistakable. The message was not that God will help you get what you want out of life, but instead that God will help you find and submit to God's plan for your life.
This is a view inside the new Worship Center after most worshipers had left. The dark screens are wide screen TVs that project images to those sitting in the back. Clearly, the room seats thousands. The stage includes an orchestra pit, and the church has a Sanctuary Orchestra in addition to many choirs.
This is the crowd exiting after the service. You can barely see the very long distance this hall extends!
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