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Policing Parents: Children's Moral Vigilance in Southern Baptist Instructional Literature, 1945-1963 (Sandra Burr/Alan Scot Willis)


Christianity dominated the cultural landscape of the American South during the Cold War years of 1945–1963; yet the Southern Baptist leadership perceived wide and serious threats to the region’s Christian homes and, thus, the broader Christian society they comprised.  Among the more serious threats was “indecent literature”—especially comic books.  “Policing Parents” examines the roles Southern Baptist leaders proscribed for youth and children in making their homes Christian through an analysis of the Convention’s instructional literature. In that literature, Baptist leaders idealized the Christian home solidified by family worship—which they called “family altar”—and inspired children and youth to actively participate in keeping their families Christian.  More importantly, however, Baptists leaders provided knowledge and examples that both encouraged and empowered children to challenge their parents’ moral authority and decisions.  Children were urged to police the family’s reading material and to pressure their parents into establishing the family altar. Certainly other organizations, like the Girl Scouts, promoted a conservative view of the family, fostering the idea that children should be raised so that they would, one day, lead Christian families; but the Southern Baptists gave their children immediate agency, calling upon them to confront their parents’ unchristian reading or failures to hold family altar.  Thus, Southern Baptists both advocated a conservative view of the family and simultaneously emboldened children to challenge a key element of that vision: parental moral authority.

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