Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2009
Three decades ago, James Lewis was a student at a regional university in the mountains of western North Carolina. As part of his financial aid package, he worked for an oral history project housed on the university campus. His interest in religion prompted him to seek interviews with local ministers – mostly elderly Baptist ministers who rejected affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention because the SBC was too “liberal.”
One of the more amusing stories he heard during those years was about a small Baptist church that began holding ice cream socials on Sunday afternoons following services. It was apparently a popular innovation. As long as the weather was mild, it was possible to hold the gatherings outside on the church lawn. However, as winter approached, these picnic-like social events became progressively problematic. Lacking other facilities, part of the congregation favored holding the gatherings inside the sanctuary. This proposal was opposed by another segment of the congregation who felt the sanctuary should be reserved for worship services. The dispute escalated until the congregation finally split over the issue.
We might humorously refer to the two churches emerging from this schism as the Ice-Cream-in-the-Sanctuary Baptists and the Anti-Ice-Cream-in-the-Sanctuary Baptists, as if the ice cream issue was a quasi-theological dispute causing the breakup. In actuality, however, it is unlikely that a disagreement over where to hold Sunday afternoon socials was the sole factor – or even the primary factor – behind the split.