PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Grace Harbor Community Church’s young congregants meet in a crowded hotel conference room, learn Scripture via PowerPoint and listen to a “praise team” play the bongos. The Web site of the 4-year-old Southern Baptist church includes a cartoon proclaiming “God said it, that settles it!” Less than a mile away, the graying worshippers at The First Baptist Church in America prefer Bach to bongos, listen to a black-robed minister who quotes Winston Churchill and meet in a white-steepled National Historic Landmark. First Baptist’s historic congregation planted the faith in America, where 30 million people now call themselves Baptist. But in the movement’s birthplace of Rhode Island, just over 2 percent of the population is Baptist, and some of its earliest churches are struggling. Southern Baptist churches like Grace Harbor have emerged as the higher-profile public face of the tradition _ which has evolved to become far more conservative than the church’s roots in a liberal blue state would suggest. Most Baptist factions trace their roots to Roger Williams, the 17th-century minister who founded Rhode Island and organized the nation’s first Baptist congregation in 1638. The uncompromising provocateur was banished from Massachusetts for attacking […]

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