Religion: Committed Baptists

Throughout the 1960s, when many other Southern white churches were integrated by fiat of hierarchy or national assembly, even the most progressive Southern Baptist ministers found it difficult to act. In the nation's largest Protestant body (11.4 million members), each congregation is independent of superior authority, and pastors thus could not sway reluctant congregations with "orders from above." But independence works both ways, as Birmingham's First Baptist Church found out last week.

First Baptist's troubles began in 1968, when the congregation of the massive, gray stone church promised the incoming pastor, Dr. J....

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