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California’s Baptists on Sidelines

The Southern Baptist conflict is not a squabble important only to Southerners. About 375,000 Southern Baptists live in California, constituting the largest church body in the state other than the Roman Catholic Church.

California Southern Baptists have been able, however, to escape the heat of the Bible doctrine-church politics disputes especially prevalent in the South--perhaps partly because the church in California reflects the state’s cultural diversity.

Black Heads Church

A black pastor, the Rev. Willie T. Gaines Jr. of San Jose, is the current state president, and among the 1,300 small-to-medium-sized churches in California are many Latino, Korean and Southeast Asian congregations in urban areas.

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The Southern Baptist opposition to the ordination of women ministers was affirmed at the annual Southern Baptist meeting last year, but a dozen or so women have been ordained by scattered churches around the country, including some in Northern California.

Relatively little fuss developed this year after six churches, including three that had ordained women as ministers and deacons, formed a new regional association at Tiburon. The action came after two of the churches were refused voting rights at another regional meeting. Both the ordinations and organizational actions were justified by the traditional autonomy of the local church, a cherished Baptist principle still honored in California, a spokesman said.

Geographical distance from the states in which Southern Baptists make up a high proportion of the population also contributes to the peace in the California churches.

Keeps His Distance

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But the president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary near San Francisco also has kept a political distance from the disputes affecting the denomination’s five other seminaries. When seminary President Frank Pollard did break his silence on the dispute recently, he did not side clearly with either moderates or fundamentalists.

“I am an inerrantist; I believe in the infallibility of the Bible,” he said, but he added that “the Bible is not God.” Pollard indicated that the leadership’s strategies have become diversions. “We are looking to leaders instead of the Lord. . . ,” he said. “The world will never be reached by egomaniacs who keep asserting their authority.”

Certainly, there are California Southern Baptists who back the conservative movement.

“On the whole, California Southern Baptists are pretty conservative,” said Herbert Hollinger of Fresno, editor of the weekly California Southern Baptist.

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State’s Bible Belt

And from what Hollinger called the state’s own Baptist Bible Belt, the Bakersfield area, recent denominational presidents have often selected clergy and laymen to serve on key committees. Named to the Committee on Committees this year were a Thousand Oaks chiropractor who supports Stanley and the pastor of Oildale First Baptist Church, near Bakersfield.


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