Baptists are a Christian religious group. Many Baptists belong to the Protestant movement of Christianity. They believe that a person can attain salvation through faith in God and Jesus Christ. Baptists also believe in the sanctity of the Bible. They practice baptism but believe that the person must be wholly immersed in water. This is a major difference between the Baptists and many other Christian denominations. Most Baptists advocate a separation between the church and the government, but also believe that the government should have high moral standards and be of a religious character. Many Baptists actively seek converts to their faith. They place a great deal of power in the hands of individual congregations. In the early 1990s, more than thirty million Baptists resided in the United States.
John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were early leaders of the Baptist faith in the Netherlands in 1609. Smyth eventually broke with the Baptists and joined the Mennonites. Helwys led a small group of Baptists from the Netherlands to England in 1612 and established the first Baptist Church in England. Due to religious persecution, many Baptists fled to the New World. The first Baptist Church in what would become the United States was founded in 1639 in Providence, Rhode Island. Rhode Island was the first English colony in the New World that promoted freedom of religion. During the 1800s, the Baptist Church divided over the issue of slavery. Many Baptists, especially in the South, firmly believed that slavery was religiously permissible. Other Baptists disagreed and argued that slavery violated God's word as printed in the Bible. In 1845, the Baptists split into pro- and anti-slavery camps. Southern Baptists created the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Northern Baptists eventually united together in the Northern Baptist Convention (the modern-day American Baptist Church Association) in 1907. Despite the development of these two groups, Baptists still allow individual congregations a great deal of authority to govern their own churches. As a general rule, Southern Baptists are more conservative in their political and religious beliefs and play a much larger role in missionary efforts than their Northern counterparts.
Baptists arrived in the Northwest Territory during the late 1700s. Once Ohio became a state, many more Baptists arrived and hoped to make successful lives for themselves. A large part of this success included establishing a religious community. By the 1850s, most cities, towns, and villages had at least one Baptist Church. The first Baptists in Ohio actively sought converts among the American Indians. Many people living on the frontier welcomed the Baptist message. They especially liked the Baptist belief that all individuals could determine for themselves their own relationship with God. The Baptists' missionary zeal continued into the mid and late 1800s. In 1831, the Baptists founded Denison College in Granville, Ohio.