Southern Religion

In my speech at the Florida League of the South State Conference, I highlighted this map from The New York Times of “where Christian conservatives live by county”:


I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of time that I spent on religion in that speech. Because racial identity has faded under the withering hostility of “mainstream” American popular culture, religion is the elephant in the room of what remains of an enduring Southern people in the 21st century. I’ve done some more digging into the subject and have turned up this excerpt from The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Religion:

“Protestantism can be classified into four major families – liturgical, classical (or Reformation), evangelical, and radical. In the South, the evangelical family predominates. Even Presbyterianism, which falls within the classical category, takes on features of evangelicalism. Radical Protestantism – Mennonite, Amish, Quaker – has left its stamp on regional forms but has had very little acceptance in the South.”

That’s an understatement.

“Three feature stand out in making the religion of the South different from the pattern that prevail elsewhere. (1) The forms that are common in the region are relatively homogeneous. The range of popular options has been historically quite narrow. (2) The South is the only society in Christendom in which the evangelical family of Christians is dominant. Evangelicalism’s dominance is decisive in making the South the “religious region” that it is and in marking off the South from patterns, practices, and perspectives prevalent in other parts of America. (3) A set of four common convictions occupies a normative southern religious position. Movements and denominations in the South are judged for authenticity in the popular mind by how well they support these beliefs: (a) the Bible is the sole reference point of belief and practice; (b) direct and dynamic access to the Lord is open to all; (c) morality is defined primarily in individualistic and interpersonal terms; and (d) worship is informal, loose structuring and spontaneity being preferred over prescription.”

During the colonial era, most Southerners were Anglicans, nominal Anglicans, or Presbyterians, but that changed during the Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening, which led to an explosion in the numbers of Baptists and Methodists who have been the predominant force in Southern religion ever since. In particular, the relative importance of baptism vs. Communion also makes the South distinct:

“At no other time and place in the history of Christendom has baptism been elevated to such eminence – and Communion so deemphasized. … Communion rates well below baptism in the evangelical-revivalistic religion that pervades the American South.”

As a Lutheran, this sounds strange to me, but I have little experience with evangelical circles. I was raised as a nominal Methodist, but science loomed far larger in my childhood than religion.

Here’s another map which draws a sharp division between Baptist Oklahoma and Missouri and Catholic Kansas:


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  1. Scofield is known for popularizing Dispensationalism. He didn’t create Dispensationalism himself and only encountered it years after the war when he had returned to the North.

    The 20th century Dispensationalist/ Fundamentalist movement was spawned in the North. It was spread to the South in the early 20th century by Yankees like Scofield.

    I will post excerpts when I get home

  2. ‘Scofield was a Yankee and that Fundamentalism was an early 20th century cultural export from the Northern states.’

    Yes, Sir : and the potatoe is NOT native to Russian culture. In fact, though it is considered to be THE staple of the Russian diet, when it was first imported by European-educated ‘progressive’ Russian Aristocrats, it was fought hard by the peasants, who did not trust it.

    Oh, how times change!

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