Evangelical leaders who make an incredible present of their dislike for “Bible Belt Religion” really just dislike the people of the Bible Belt.
There are almost as many churches as there are people in the small southern town where I live. You will scarcely meet a person who isn’t a member of one (or more) of them, though few have faithfully attended Sunday services since at least the Clinton administration. But even the local dope dealers and bootleggers can quote long passages from the Bible with scribal accuracy. While they may not, on the advice of counsel, admit to committing any crimes, they would be quick to confess many particular sins. And that is no small thing.
Some time ago, one leading evangelical influencer rejoiced over the decline of “Bible Belt Religion,” commenting that it “made bad people worse.” More lately, one other Christian pundit took one other swing on the cultural Christianity of the South, considered one of his favourite punching luggage, calling it a type of “toxic religion” that’s, at greatest, an expression of the Faith to be “survived.”
While I would agree with them that wholehearted, full-throated devotion to Jesus Christ could be preferable, I can’t discover such dedication even amongst our Lord’s hand-picked Apostles or in a single congregation because the unusual winds started blowing at Pentecost. These critics of the religion of my kin appear to be laid low with a virulent pressure of perfectionism. Such perfectionism is little greater than the Holiness doctrine of total sanctification utilized to tradition, or not less than to sure cultures. Hence, one of many issues with their disdain for the Bible Belt stems from an over-realized eschatology; a transformationalism that expects seeds to yield a hundred-fold in a single day. Nevertheless, we’re praying for lasting fruit, not Morning Glories.
One can think about fewer complaints from the South if her critics held everybody over the fiery pit like considered one of Edwards’s unlucky spiders, and did so with equal contempt. But there appears to be a little bit of socio-theological dissonance at play. On the one hand, cultures which are overtly pagan, unbelieving, or outright anti-god are seen by means of the starry eye of Pelagian optimism. While alternatively, the imperfect spiritual expressions of the Bible Belt are met with the clenched fist of an Augustinianism gone to seed. The latter is denounced as completely wicked with the entire fervor of a tent-revivalist, whereas the previous are patted on the pinnacle like some tame race of noble savages.
Just so, barring a defective eschatology or sort of theological schizophrenia, one is left to attract the conclusion that those that dislike “Bible Belt Religion” actually simply dislike the Bible Belt. But in my view, I thank God for the Bible Belt individuals who launched me to Jesus.
Our little church couldn’t boast of a single scholar. Our collars have been blue, our necks have been pink, and our thumbs have been inexperienced. The preacher offered insurance coverage and tomatoes on the facet. The fingers that held the providing plates often had axle grease beneath their nails. And when you had requested our girls a few girl named “Gloria” who had made her manner in a person’s world, they’d’ve instantly considered Gloria Gaither. Our church was a houseful of easy individuals who merely liked the Lord.
Were there doctrinal issues? More than you could possibly shake a stick at. But there was additionally an unvarnished devotion to the 2 Great Commandments. And such love covers a mess of catechetical misfires. The Bible Belt Christians who raised me couldn’t all the time provide you with chapter and verse, however they have been all the time prepared with a cup of chilly water. At the tip of the day, it’s the one who affords a cool drink that receives the prophet’s reward, not the one who remembers all of the names of the prophets.
The pastors of my childhood dangled their participles, misplaced their modifiers, and would’ve most likely preached towards the premarital conjugation of verbs. But additionally they proclaimed a God too massive to fail, too sensible to make a mistake, and too loving to allow you to go. They weren’t towards schooling as such, they have been simply towards equating info with constancy. After I acquired my doctorate, I keep in mind one outdated preacher pulling me apart and saying, “A Ph.D. is like the curl on the end of a pig’s tail—it may look good, but it don’t represent no more ham.” He was proper. Credentials aren’t synonymous with Christian advantage.
Where I’m from we prayed in public and sinned in secret. This is the a lot maligned “Bible Belt” decorum. We weren’t excellent, however we made few claims to such lofty beliefs. We believed in repentance—principally as a result of we have been used to doing a lot of it. The city drunk often made his solution to the summer time revival conferences and has been “converted” not less than a dozen instances. Somehow I suppose that is higher than him not displaying up in any respect. And considered one of as of late I think about it would take. The fella who previously held his submit was compelled to take early retirement from it as a result of the Free Methodists received ahold of him and turned him into a rustic parson.
We are advised that backward, small-town, southern faith created a disproportionate variety of “nominal” Christians. I reckon that’s most likely true because it has made extra of the opposite sort of Christian than anybody else too. Want to commerce missionary receipts?
The prime brass Evangeligentsia says that Bible Belt Religion has resulted in a measure of cultural Christianity. I say, sure. But I favor to think about it just like the leaven which the shrewd girl within the gospels hid in three measures of flour till all was leavened. We have it on good authority that the Kingdom of God is rather like that. Urban Evangelistas like to rail towards nominal faith, declaring with no small quantity of glee, “Mayberry is not the New Jerusalem.” To which an sincere individual is certain to say, “sure.” But then once more, Mayberry positive as hell ain’t Sodom and Gomorrah both.
Anyone who ever had a widow train them about David from a lint-laden flannelgraph; or discovered the “Romans Road” from a mechanic throughout VBS; or was in any other case liked to Jesus by hard-working folks with southern accents, ought to give due to the Good Lord for Bible Belt Religion.
So despise not the day of small issues. Let endurance have her excellent work. And for goodness sake, honor your fathers and your moms.
Brandon Meeks (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) serves as Theologian-in-Residence at his Anglican parish in Arkansas.