Why I’m Thankful for the Bible Belt

I’m never surprised when secularists bash the Bible Belt. I’m sure the good folks from up north realize quickly they are in a different kind of place when they drive by giant crosses erected as purposeful reminders beside truck stop porn shops on their way to the beach. I’ve often heard snide comments about there being “a church on every corner” from out-of-towners. If you’re from the Bible Belt, you probably notice it as much as a fish notices water. But if you’re not from around here, the Bible Belt probably feels like a strange place.

The roots of the Bible Belt go deep. As the southwestern part of the continent gradually opened for settlers, it wasn’t the wealthy and the elite who were motivated to settle these lands. Those who began crossing the Appalachian Mountains after the Revolution were opportunists. They prided themselves on hard work and were willing to risk it all for a chance to make a new life. They were Baptists and Methodists, farmers and hunters, often uneducated and usually disdainful of elites from up north who looked down on them.

Beginning around 1800, revival broke out in the region, resulting in the conversion of thousands. New churches sprung up wherever two or three gathered in the name of Jesus. In 1776, the New England colonies were the most religious in America, and there only about one in five citizens had religious affiliation. By 1850, nearly one third of the entire United States population belonged to churches. Most of that growth took place in the Bible Belt among Baptists, Methodists, and other similar bodies.

History lesson aside, it’s inarguable that there’s something different about the region of earth that roughly corresponds to the Southeastern Conference, even including the upcoming additions of the Sooners and Longhorns. In the words of southern novelist, Flannery O’Connor, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God.”

While secularists and progressives have made sport of bashing Bible Belt culture for a long time, the newest criticisms come from a surprising source. It is now fashionable in certain evangelical corners to bash it. Evangelicals are increasingly ashamed of their own, turning red in embarrassment as homeschool families unload their brood from conversion vans in Chick-fil-a parking lots.

I get the criticisms. Bible Belt Christianity isn’t necessarily Jesus’ Christianity. You can wear a tee shirt with a Bible verse on it and not be a Christian. You can salute the giant cross on Interstate 75 and not know the Savior who died on it. Pastors like me who minister in Bible Belt contexts must carefully navigate the pitfalls of cultural Christianity. I’ve spoken to many who falsely assume they are in good spiritual health with salvation assured all because of some vague association with the church at an early point in life. No one is saved by association.

But let’s be careful in our criticisms. Bible Belt Christianity may provide cover for fake Christianity, but it also has its advantages. In fact, I sometimes wonder where I would be without the Bible Belt. I didn’t come to Christ until I was twenty, but I grew up in South Alabama, and I heard the gospel of God’s saving grace through Christ often. I didn’t go to one Vacation Bible School per summer; I went to several. I remember prayers before high school football games. I may not have been following Jesus, but I knew many people who were. The gospel sometimes seemed omnipresent to me. I was haunted by Christ. I couldn’t forget about him.

The alternative to the Bible Belt is not a void. It’s another ideology. It’s secularism. The alternative to a porn shop with a giant cross across the street is a porn shop without a giant cross across the street. I’m glad Christ still haunts the South. I pray that the churches on every corner would serve as perpetual reminders to every passerby that Jesus has come and is coming in his Kingdom. May the Bible Belt grow stronger.

10 thoughts on “Why I’m Thankful for the Bible Belt”

  1. Casey, you aren’t the only one thankful for those churches on every corner! I find driving through small towns filled with churches like wrapping a quilt around my shoulders on a cold winters day. I’ve been to several states north of yours and find the lack of such buildings daunting and even alarming. Where do those people go when they need comfort? To whom do they turn? I thank God for where He put me in time and place!

  2. I wish it wasn’t the crosses and churches all around, but the genuine love shown by those inside those churches. I wish it was immutable impact on the community. I wish the church was so effectual in filling in the gaps in the economy of these states that they would be lifted up as examples that churches and their bodies can and do work better than the government to support their communities. I don’t want just the sight of a cross, I want it’s life changing power.

    1. I do too. While that wasn’t the point of my post, I agree with your desire. I would also say that I regularly see the church pour out the love of Christ in all kinds of tangible ways. I’ve see lives changed and sufferers cared for regularly. What I never see is any kind of reporters showing up to cover it.

      1. I don’t think we would need coverage. The communities would speak for us. If every church on every corner served this way, no one would be able to deny because everyone would know someone helped by the church. Poverty in our communities would be non-existent, not ubiquitous. The proof is in the pudding (results). We need to do better. Big crosses next to porn shops help no one, they are the whited sepulchers of our time- the appearance of righteousness only.

        Look, I love my Bible Belt Baptist church, but we have to do better. In the wake of SBC’s heinous crimes, we have to hold a mirror up and ask ourselves if this is good enough. I don’t think it is.

      2. Silvia, Thanks for reading. My point was very simple and very small: reminders of Christ saturate the South and I think that’s a good thing. My post was not about the mission of the church and whether or not the church is failing in its mission. I don’t think the church’s mission is to eliminate poverty in the world, but at the same time the church can’t ignore it. But that’s a much bigger topic. Again, thanks for reading.

      3. I understand. Your point, like the point of the crosses is small- like the impact of the church and you’re happy with that.

      4. Just don’t forget sister, our faith may be small like a mustard seed, but our fruit should feed far more than just own own roots.

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