Foot Washing Baptist

What's the difference between foot-washing Baptist and Baptist, as mentioned in "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

Asked on by esha25

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sullymonster's profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The term "foot-washing Baptist" is used in Chapter 5 of the novel to describe both Boo's father and Nathan Radley, Boo's brother.  Here is the quote from the novel:

Miss Maudie settled her bridgework. "You know old Mr. Radley was a foot-washing Baptist-" 
        "That's what you are, ain't it?"
        "My shell's not that hard, child. I'm just a Baptist." 
        Apparently deciding that it was easier to define primitive baptistry than closed communion, Miss Maudie said: "Foot-washers believe anything that's pleasure is a sin. Did you know some of 'em came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me me  and my flowers were going to hell?"

      Scout is at first confused, thinking that foot-washing means what it says.  However, as Miss Maudie explains, it is a reference to a strict adherence to "cleaniness" of the soul.  As humans, we should not experience pleasure, for that takes away from God's power and our worship of him.  A "just" Baptist, like Miss Maudie, is a Christian who follows Baptist rules, but believe that it is ok to take in pleasure in the experiences of life.

engtchr5's profile pic

engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

"Foot-washing baptist" is a very old-school term for Baptists (usually Southern) that went to church devoutly, and performed or had performed the foot-washing ceremony as described in the Bible. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, and when Peter objects, he explains that in order to truly be a servant, one must humble themselves before others.

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