The Spiritual Baptist (or Baptist) faith is a syncretic Afro-American religion that combines elements of traditional African religion with Christianity. Despite the African influences, Spiritual Baptists consider themselves to be Christians.
The Baptist faith was brought to Trinidad by the Merikins, former American slaves who were recruited by the British to fight, as the Corps of Colonial Marines, against the Americans during the War of 1812. After the end of the war, these ex-slaves were settled in Trinidad, to the east of the Mission of Savannah Grande (now known as Princes Town) in six villages, since then called the Company Villages.
These American settlers brought with them the Baptist faith of the Second Great Awakening combined with, in the case of those from Georgia, the Gullah culture. With the coming of missionaries of the Baptist Missionary Society from Great Britain, the Baptist faith in the Company Villages was much affected, but despite the ensuing schism between the so-called London Baptists and the rest, the Baptist congregations of the Company Villages, even including those with Gullah origins, retained so little visible African influence in their practice that John Hackshaw was able to give a different view of the Baptists in the north of the country:
"While those that settled in the 'Company Villages' were exposed to the Baptist Missionary Society's influence, those that settled in the North practiced their beliefs as brought from America with the inclusion of African religious practice and beliefs joined by those they met here which blossomed into the group now known as 'Spiritual Baptists'."
The faith expanded to Barbados in 1957 as the Sons of God Apostolic Spiritual Baptists movement. It now ranks as one of two indigenous religions in the country, the other being the Rastafari religion. Archbishop Granville Williams, who was born in Barbados, lived for 16 years in Trinidad and Tobago, where he witnessed the local Spiritual Baptists. Becoming enthusiastic about the Trinidadian movement, he asserted that he had seen a vision and heard the voice of God. Upon returning to Barbados he held the first open-air meeting in Oistins, Christ Church. Due to a well received response in Barbados, he quickly established the Jerusalem Apostolic Spiritual Baptist Church in Ealing Grove. This church was quickly followed by Zion at Richmond Gap. As of 1999 the following in Barbados had reached around 1,900 and the Jerusalem church had been rebuilt to seat 3,000.
The name Shouter derives from the practice of their religion. They are very vocal in singing, praying and preaching. "Shouter" is seen as a derogatory term and the term "Spiritual" is preferred due to the practice of their religion to "invoke the holy spirit" during their worship.
The activities of the Spiritual Baptists in Trinidad and Tobago were prohibited in 1917 by the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance, which was eventually repealed in 1951. The late opposition parliamentarian Ashford Sinanan moved to repeal the ordinance under the PNM government and was successful. Today Spiritual Baptists can practise their religion freely. The United National Congress granted them a national holiday and also gave them land on which to establish their headquarters.
The colours of the headdress or clothes varies and represent the 'spiritual cities' or the saints with which the individual most relates.
Men can wear a headwrap however the very top of the head is usually left uncovered. Men tend to wear a gown or short cassocks. Persons of higher rank (deacons, deaconnesses, pastors, bishops) can wear a surplice over the gown.
In 1996 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago granted a public holiday to the Spiritual Baptist faith, to be celebrated on 30 March, called Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day, in memory of the struggle and in recognition of the repeal of the prohibition law. Trinidad and Tobago is the only country that celebrates a public holiday for the Spiritual Baptist faith.
Many Spiritual Baptist churches have overlapping memberships with practitioners of the Trinidad Orisha religion. In Trinidad, Orisha is also called Shango, and the term "Shango Baptist" is sometimes used to describe worshipers who are involved with both Spiritual Baptism and Orisha/Shango. The term "Shango Baptist" has come to have negative connotations for some worshippers of both Spiritual Baptism and Orisha/Shango, who argue that those who say "Shango Baptist" conflate the two religions, when in fact they are separate. As some have said, "There is no thing as Shango Baptist. Shango is Shango. Baptist is Baptist". Others say that Shango Baptists simply "wear two hats"; their mixture of "Baptist and Orisha practices" is a result of similar oppression by Colonial authorities in Trinidad.
In practice, the Trinidad Orisha religion is very closely connected with the Spiritual Baptists. Orisha worship services typically begin with a section of Baptist hymns, and in Trinidad and New York Orisha events are often held at the same locations as Spiritual Baptist churches.