Joseph E. Early Jr., tells the story of how one man, Samuel Augustus Hayden, almost destroyed the newly organized Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) before it could take root. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, Hayden caused such unrest among Texas Baptists that after a failed attempt to take over the BGCT, he was expelled from the state body. In turn, he created a rival organization, the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA), which continued to fight perceived oppression by the BGCT.
While trying to take over the BGCT, Hayden, through his newspaper, accused his enemies of embezzlement, heresy, arson, and strong-arm tactics. Hayden’s high-profile opponents included some of the most powerful and well-known Baptists in Texas: George Washington Truett, Benajah Harvey Carroll, and James Britton Cranfill. Through their newspapers they asserted that Hayden was insane, a liar, and a heretic. Baptists in Texas were forced to take sides in the struggle. After more than twenty years of turmoil, the controversy came to a dramatic conclusion on a train bound for the Southern Baptist Convention, where Cranfill and Hayden scuffled over a pistol. Two shots were fired; miraculously, no one was hurt.
Though the main events of the Hayden Controversy occurred more than one hundred years ago, history appears to be repeating itself. On August 11, 2004, the Baptist Standard called on all Baptists to recognize that they are reliving the Hayden Controversy. Once again Texas Baptists are being asked to take sides in a struggle for leadership with the formation of a new organization called the Southern Baptists of Texas (SBT). Both the BGCT and the SBT have strong leaders intent on guiding Texas Baptists in doctrinal and denominational matters. The BGCT once again finds itself dealing with a splinter group on some of the same issues fought over in the Hayden Controversy.
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Published by University of North Texas Press