Christianity in the South

One of the first couples Amy and I met when we arrived at PTS are from Alabama. They grew up in the Southern Baptist church and attended Samford, a Southern and Baptist version of Wheaton. Over Chinese food last Sunday, he revealed the situation of Christianity as he saw it. Apparently, in Alabama, it is just like the novels. A sizable percentage of people only go to church for the status of the congregation and the recognition by other people in the church and community. He said that many people read magazines and newspapers openly throughout the service, and one of the marks of a good pastor is being able to keep the service from going too long. Services only go for one hour, and yet that is too long for some people. The first time he gave a sermon at his home church, a couple of people told him, "Now you're going to get us all out of here by 12, right?" Their concern was about not having to stay too long, not about him, the sermon, or anything else of substance. The SBC preachers are apparently the best at keeping services short, and they never go past 11:55 am. Only the charismatic traditions go longer.

Amy and I were personally aghast at this. We thought our churches back home were in sad condition! Even if some people weren't paying attention, they at least looked like it out of respect. And almost all the adults participated in some way, and many very enthusiastically. His portrayal of the church situation cannot obviously be applied to the South as a single entity, but I wonder now about the cultural distinctions. Here in the East, churches are mostly quite old and well established, so there is another kind of listlessness about faith here -- the old, crusty, stale kind. It's all rather depressing.

Comments

Bethany said…
While my church is far from dismal, I don't doubt the existance of many such churches in the south. I think the difference is that, because the south is "more religious," it remains socially beneficial for one to attend somewhere. Even people who never go to church "have" a church. Whereas in other areas of the country, going to church does not give you any added social status and may subtract some.
dcongdon said…
I would love to hear more from your friends about their perspective of "community" and church/body-life as a thought/concept for southern believers (obviously, it is only a cross-section--but an honest one, nonetheless).

I appreciate and share your disheartened response!
ZaxIpsa said…
It's not /only/ the charismatic churches that are different. Honestly, it's usually an evangelical/nominal dividing line. Everyone but the true radicals goes to church in the South, but more evangelical/alive (including Catholic) churches are generally not so worried about the time. The time factor seeps into the less nominal churches, too, but more in a please-get-us-out-in-two-hours-so-we-can-feed-the-crying-kids-lunch sort of way.
Douglas_Coombs said…
I have only been to a few churches down south in Florida, however when there I did not witness any of the disrespectful behavior mentioned. Perhaps one does not gain social status by attending a Catholic mass, but I would still be hesitant to paint with such broad strokes.

Regarding whether it is beneficial to have a society where Christianity is the norm, even if it is lukewarm... Obviously, our Lord would rather that people were hot or cold. However, is it easier for people to become avid about their faith coming from a lukewarm position than a cold position? I would venture to say that if somebody has already accepted the basis of Christianity, it is often easier to have a conversion experience and become avid about one's faith. Often all they are waiting for is a charismatic example to lead the way. I have found this to be the case with Catholic youth at least. They are in many ways fairly easy to reach relative to the secular world where Christianity is not considered to be intellectually viable.

Doug
D.W. Congdon said…
Just so you know, Doug, I'm not the one painting the "broad strokes." My friend from the South is. No doubt he has experienced only a small portion of the South's attitude toward faith. But that does not mean it can be discounted.
bcongdon said…
David,
From my experience, it's not new. I spent the summer of 1977 in the South. I have vivid memories of two churches. A small AME "black" church in Little Rock, Arkansas, which knew how to "worship." They rocked the place late into the night. The preacher would build and build to an explosian, at which the folks would scream and dance in the aisles, then sit down for the next round. Very entertaining and shallow. A huge brick edifice, the "white" First Baptist Church of Shreveport, LA, was everything your friend from the South described. People came to be seen. Nobody paid attention to the canned prayers and sermon, during which folks were openly talking in the rear pews, situated about a half mile from the podium. Very boring and dead.
--Brad
grandmac said…
I have heard totally different things about Southern churches from people who grew up there. My guess is that you will find churches in different areas different and doubt you can paint a picture of southern churches with one paint brush.