Religion: Bickering Baptists

The sturdiest pulpits of Middle America stand in the 34,335 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC's 11,498,613 members, making up the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, are the fabric of the now somewhat frayed Bible Belt that arcs from California to Virginia. In folklore—and partly in fact—they stand as stern exponents of a Scripture understood in literal terms and a life lived by rough-hewn moral precepts. Last week the 13,500 "messengers" who gathered in Denver for the SBC's 125th anniversary meeting* seemed to be running true to type. They filled the air...

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