Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Bible Belt

A friend and former student of mine recently went on a rant about “hypocritical Christians,” and when she used it, “hypocritical” was not a modifier. She wasn’t distinguishing between those of us who are hypocrites and those of us who aren’t. She was using the two words as if to say that one implied the other.

Well, I couldn’t let that stand, and I put a good bit of typing into trying to clarify issues for her. I put a lot of effort into telling her that as an atheist, she knew just enough about religion to be dangerous, and didn’t know all the nuances of interpretation between different groups. I tried to tell her that the people she was talking about are not the majority of Christians, but the loudmouthed nutballs that embarrass the rest of us.

She wasn’t buying it. As far as she was concerned, those loudmouthed nutballs were the majority, and people like me were in an all-too-small minority.

Then as I moved my mouse across the screen, I saw where she was. I quickly wrote back to her:

Oh wait a minute. You’re in Virginia. You’re surrounded by them. No wonder you feel that way about Christians. I understand now.

The Bible Belt. My friend is in that part of the country that we call the Bible Belt. A place where there seems to be a Bible-thumper on every corner, full of fire, brimstone, and condemnation, and more than wiling to tell her that she’s going straight to Hell (she says that at least it’ll be warm there). A place where Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans are looked at with suspicion, and where people wonder if they’re really Christians at all. I understand. I understand all too well.

And then I got to thinking a little more about the Bible Belt. What if this was a place where it was less about citing rule after rule after rule (and making up rules that don’t even exist), and more about living the kind of life talked about in both the Old and New Testaments? What if instead of appearing to be a place full of people like the Pharisee who, obsessed with his own virtue, thanked God that he wasn’t like that sinner over in the corner, it was full of people like that very guy in the corner, who begged God to have mercy on a sinner such as him. (Luke 18:9-14)

Most of us see the Bible Belt as a place full of judgment, and a place where the Bible thumper is more than willing to point out the speck in your eye while ignoring the 2x4 in his own. This is especially true if you’re “not a member of the club.” But suppose, just suppose the Bible Belt was a place where:

There was concern for the poor (Proverbs 14:31)
Foreigners were treated fairly and kindly (Leviticus 19:34)
There was care and concern shown even toward one’s enemies (Luke 6:27)

What if the Bible Belt was...the area around Lancaster, PA? Yes, Lancaster…the center of what’s commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Home to the Amish…people who would just as soon forgive you as judge you. People who see their job as being to peacefully live their faith and way of life, while not trying to force either of them on you.

And people who wouldn’t care whose wedding they were baking a cake for.

Ah…what if the Bible Belt was full of Amish/Mennonites, rather than Evangelicals and Pentecostals? How would my friend feel then?

Hmm…maybe she should spend some time in Pennsylvania.

I may come back to this later.

1 comment:

  1. I lived in the Buckle of the Bible Belt in Cookeville, TN where I began my university teaching career. It can be stifling to a young person. There is only one way or the highway. And the Civil War is alive and well.