It is easy to be disoriented by the South. Underneath the charm of sweet tea and bow ties, sear sucker onesies and SEC tailgates lies a devastated region. At its foundation, Southern culture was designed to accrue wealth for Christians – with a work force that was considered to be sub-human. This stunningly efficient economic strategy was able to flourish because of a predominate worldview that normalized and then institutionalized Christian hypocrisy. To a large degree, the church in the South either directly promoted or passively allowed the creation of a society that required (at minimum):
· The systematic abduction of African people.
· The enslavement of those people into an uncompensated labor force.
· The political will to secede from the United States in order to maintain control of this economic model.
· The human and material resources dedicated towards the violent overthrow the United States government.
This was apparently done with enough cultural consent that the general public saw no inconsistency with Biblical doctrine or ethics.
The ripple effects of this theological compromise on the current spiritual landscape of the South cannot be overstated. Obviously, tremendous strides have been made - both socially and legislatively to correct many of the evils born out of this theological perversion and there are notable examples of prophetic resistance, but the fact remains that the South’s original sin of slavery (and the theological foundation that justified it) set into motion the perfect storm of white supremacy and nominal Christianity.
This paradigm is responsible for the current church dynamic that largely identifies as a white, middle-class, conservative voting bloc, rather than the multi-ethnic missionary movement described in Ephesians or the eschatological reality revealed in Revelation. To be clear, every church in the South is not inherently racist or theologically compromised, but it must be noted that the “Christian” heritage of the Bible Belt carries significant barriers to or at least a great deal of confusion about the gospel of Jesus.
In order to be a faithful witness of the gospel and develop disciples that actually embody what Jesus stood for, we must be aware of these specific cultural blind spots:
· the legitimization of nominal Christianity
· the normalization of mono-ethnic communities
· the ignorance of or apathy towards social justice
· the separation of doctrine from its ethical implications
As we work to plant new churches and established churches refine their ministries so that the South can be saturated with the gospel - we must directly confront these areas or the same worldview that justified slavery will come for us too.