The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC) started as a movement which reflected the religious, social and political climate of its time. Its mission was to transform the traditional African American Baptist Convention as well as society. The formation of the convention was wrapped up in the civil rights movement and was begun by some of the same persons who were deeply involved in the freedom movement for African Americans in the United States. Even though the seeds of the convention were sown by discontent with the lack of democratic process within the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A Inc. (NBCUSA Inc.), the roots of its development went far beyond issues of tenure of office and leadership.
From a religious perspective, churches from across the United States were suffering from an identity crisis fostered by racism, and conservative political policies and practices that supported segregation and U.S. apartheid. Theologians, seminary students and religious leaders were now openly questioning theological constructs and historical assumptions that were the basis for doctrinal practices that supported two societies in America: one White and the other Black.
From a sociological perspective, the United States during the 60S was undergoing a massive social transformation. Movements of freedom and justice led by clergy and churchpersons throughout the United States began to spring up at every level and strata in society. African Americans who at one time accepted the status quo were now propelled into a whirlwind of change from those systems and structures that oppressed them. No structure was sacrosanct. Every African American institution was looked at with a critical eye. The institutional church was no exception.
It was in this context that the discontent felt by the young clergy and lay persons of the NBCUSA, Inc. was reflected in a power struggle over the leadership of the church: would the church be at the forefront of the civil rights movement or would it only emphasize narrow ecclesiastical concerns and worship? Or could the African American church remain in hibernation while the fires of a new found liberation struggle centered itself in the struggle for freedom and justice?
One of the visionaries of this era who challenged the NBCUSA, Inc. was the Rev. L. Venchael Booth who envisioned a new convention that was progressive and forward thinking, a convention that would respond to the spiritual and social needs of the time.
In a response to a letter sent out by the Rev. L. Venchael Booth, 33 delegates from 14 states met on November 14-15, 1961 at his church, the Zion Baptist Church in Cincinnati Ohio. Rev. J. Raymond Henderson, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, presided over the meeting. As a result of this two-day intensive organizational meeting, the Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc. was formed.
As a result of the 1961 founding meeting in Cincinnati Ohio, Rev. T. M. Chambers was elected as its first President. Leadership from across the United States joined the Progressive Baptist family and spawned the Progressive National Baptist Movement. Issues of freedom, civil and human rights, and progressive ideas became the cornerstone for the convention. The PNBC became a new Christian movement which included an array of social and political concerns embodied in its founding principles of Fellowship, Progress, Peace and Service.
The PNBC movement was under girded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s struggle for freedom for African Americans. It was the PNBC that provided a denominational home for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many of the Baptist leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. They all became important forces in the life and work of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
As a result of this involvement from members of the Civil Rights Movement the centerpiece of the PNBC witness became one of social justice and human liberation as a mandate of the Gospel. In essence, the PNBC became a living African American Christian organism, vibrant with energy and committed to the social gospel for the transformation of U.S. society.
From its very beginning, distinctive characteristics emerged that separated it from other African American Baptist conventions: 1) Tenure in office, 2) a unified giving program and 3) kingdom priorities.
Tenure in office: One of the founding cardinal principles of the convention is that any member of the convention whether lay, clergy, male or female is eligible to hold any office of the convention and that there was a limit set on the length of holding office. The tenure principle assured that there was within every structure of the convention, the freedom of opportunity, equal access to office and the broadest possible participation of all of its members.
Unified Budget: According to the PNBC constitution, member churches are required to contribute 1% of their previous year's operating budget as their membership fee. Member churches can also designate contributions to specific causes that the convention supports. At each annual session the budget is approved by the entire convention.
Kingdom Priorities: A distinctive characteristic of the PNBC is its functional organizational structure and its integrated mission programs. The PNBC is dedicated to the education of African Americans and has as one of its major priorities the support of African American colleges, schools of religion, theological schools and universities.
Since its beginning it has always been ecumenical, supporting the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance and other ecumenical bodies. The PNBC is actively engaged in national and international ministries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the United States of America.
The PNBC has grown from 33 members at its founding meeting to over 2.5 million members, (1.5 million in the United States and over 1million around the globe). The PNBC is now organized into five regions. The regions include the Southern Region, the Southwest Region, the Eastern Region, the Midwest Region and the International Region. These regions meet one a year to carry out the programs of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
In the United States there are PNBC churches in 35 states. The membership of the PNBC is primarily urban with some of the most noted churches in urban cities. The membership of the convention comes from many different social classes and strata. A large percentage of PNBC churches are engaged in urban programs that focus on the youth, the elderly, housing, economic development and prison ministries. The convention has a pension program and the Nannie Helen Burroughs School is establishing schools internationally.
The PNBC has a full operational headquarters with full-time staff in Northeast Washington, D.C. Staff includes a General Secretary and executive directors of Mission Ministry, Christian Education, Administration, and Finance. All officers of the PNBC are elected each year and can serve a maximum tenure of four years. The President of the Convention is the Chief Executive Officer of Convention and the General Secretary is the Chief Operating Officer.
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