Members of the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination (12.5 million members, an increase of nearly a quarter of a million over the previous year) came to the city of the palm—outstretched, grumbled some—this month and opened their 118th annual session with the ringing of a Mississippi-made replica of the Liberty Bell. But this year’s convention was no bell-ringer for the media people whose editors back home kept dinging them for hard news. The most excitement seemingly came on the second night during a talk by former Miss America Vonda Kay Van Dyke. One of the 16,212 registered messengers (delegates) shouted “Hallelujah!” and awakened two children, who ran screaming from the bleachers in panic.

The most applauded message was delivered by potato-faced Jerry Clower, a 275-pound yarn-spinning deacon from Yazoo City, Mississippi. A Grand Ole Opry star, he became the first comedian ever to address the SBC, though a few preachers have tried to play the role. He repeatedly got serious points across with a light touch.

A sampler from the corn-pone comic who bills himself as the world’s greatest fertilizer salesman: “King Solomon said it is better to eat poke salad and turnip greens, drink branch water out of a gourd dipper, live in a shotgun house, and be dirt poor but have Christian love … than to live in a mansion with charbroiled rib-eye steaks three times a day, having all the money you can spend, a wash hole in the back yard, and a big car while bickering and arguing without love.” Then he called for “everybody lovin’ one another and … gettin’ it on for the glory of God!”

While the messengers were gettin’ it on with election of officers, pageantry, reports, sermons, and occasional mild parliamentary debate, reporters tried ...

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