evangelicalism smackdown: the battle for the bible belt

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Sunday, January 11th, 2009

evangelicalism smackdown: the battle for the bible belt

there’s always those cliché types of comments that people make that lay claim to various assertions. for instance, you’ll hear something to the effect of, “oh my gosh, i saw the most hilarious thing last night!” really? it was the most hilarious thing that exists in the pantheon of hilarious things? or, you’ll hear people lay claim to such things as, “things have never been this bad, so we must be living in the end times. jesus is returning soon.” could you please quantify that statement, because i’m sure that joe blow hell-fire-and-brimstone preacher make that exact claim about their time or decade every few years for the last however many hundred years.

not to over-analyze clichés, but it seems that everyone has the need or desire to make their experience the quintessential model of the cliché. it’s as if the cliché originated with their experience. it’s the funniest. or the worst. or the this or the that.
one of my favorite clichés is one i tend to hear a lot when i go to conferences (or the like) with multiple speakers, particularly ones in the south or with speakers from southern states. it never fails that at least one of those speakers, while giving their brief bio, is going to say that they live in the “buckle of the bible belt.” they’re trying to express the fact that there’s a church “on every corner” and that people seem to be particularly religious. not too long ago, at a conference, i heard 3 speakers use this line. one of them was from the atlanta area. one was from the dallas area and one was from somewhere in southern indiana. either the proverbial buckle is freaking huge or one of these guys is confused. or, maybe, for whatever reason, people tend to assume that their experience, as suggested, is the most quintessential form of the cliché. we tend to be very short-sighted.
well, whenever i need some kind of life clarification, naturally, i turn to our friends at wikipedia. 🙂 how does wikipedia define the concept of the bible belt?

Bible Belt is an informal term for an area of the United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a dominant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is extremely high.

so, the common traits are 1.) dominantly socially conservative evangelical protestantism and, 2.) christian church attendance is extremely high.

i stumbled across a quick post over on the arkansas blog, where munford miller asked readers to “draw your own conclusions” about some statistics given at the back of the new book, how barack obama won (seems like i remember a similar blog post title that i recently wrote…). the main statistic that stood out to me was that arkansas is number 1! well…i’m not so sure this is the best category to be #1 in (not that i’m saying that this is terrible either…that’s a whole other blog post and discussion…). anyway, we’re #1 in the percentage of white evangelicals (56%). so, we have more (percentage-wise) white evangelicals here in arkansas than any other state in the union.
further, i took a look at the percentage of church attendance in the u.s. (which represents people who attend church at least once a week) and found that arkansas was 5th at 56% (the national average is 42%, so i really don’t have to argue the point much more…). now, even though we were 5th, we can automatically (more or less) throw out 2 of them: utah (57%) & louisiana (58%). first, utah is mormon church attendance, which has nothing to do with “christian” or “dominant evangelical protestantism.” second, louisiana is less automatic, but still, southern louisiana catholics have to make up at least 2 or 3% (probably much more) of those stats, which is certainly christian, but certainly not protestant or evangelical. the only other ones above us are south carolina and alabama. while they could make a claim for the “buckle of the bible belt” smackdown, they’re lagging in white evangelicals (which is the most essential part of the bible belt equation).
so, i’m here to definitively state that when i speak at events and am introducing myself as a resident of arkansas, i can safely say that i live in the buckle of the bible belt. (and then, after i speak, you can go blog about how your state is actually the buckle and not arkansas…)