Very interesting. Thanks for passing this along.
The best way to describe the South religiously is to imagine a world where 90% of the people are either Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian. The other 10% includes Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Mormons and atheists too. The South is getting more and more religiously diverse, esp. in retirement areas and in the cities. The rural South is still pretty much still the preserve of what I call the Southern Holy Trinity: the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. But of those three, the Methodists are quite mild, kind and tolerant. They don't damn anybody, don't try to pass laws outlawing everything they dislike, nor do they try to cram their religion down anyone else's throats. The Presbyterians are divided into many factions. Most of them are just as tolerant, broad-minded, and mild as the Methodists are. Many of the more progressive Presbyterians are quite liberal, and take stands similar to the Episcopal Church on many issues. There is a conservative fundamentalist Presbyterian element here. But even here in the South it is small and doesn't have the money or the influence of the mainline Presbyterians. The Baptists, while stereotypically portrayed as shouting hillbillies damning everyone to hell, are really quite a bit more complex than that and divided into many factions, many of whom hate each other. Some of the Baptists are quite mainline, esp. the wealthy ones with the old historic "downtown" Churches and lots of members from the Country Club. They have plush churches, pipe organs, wealthy members, very mild preaching and pastors (not "preachers") that graduated from Duke and Emory and Vanderbilt. Some, including First Baptist of Greenville, SC (my hometown) even have female pastors now. However, most of the Baptists in the South are not like that. Most are what I'd call conservative evangelicals rather than full blown fundamentalists. Most actually are pretty similar to Billy Graham. They don't get too involved in politics, except for maybe an occassional aside comment in the sermon. They stress the value of Sunday School, reading the Bible, and their famous "personal relationship with Jesus" which they believe begins by 'accepting Jesus' at an altar call at the end of a Baptist sermon. I'd say probably 90% of the Baptists in the South are this type. Last of all, there are that crazy 10% of independent Baptists: watch out for them! LOL They are known more for what they preach AGAINST rather than what they stand for. They are anti-historical, anti-Catholic, preacher screaming, sin scorning, devil-hating, Bible-thumping creatures, many with a grossly under-educated clergy who seem to pander only to the theological passions and social phobias of their people. They make life in the South "interesting" if nothing else. LOL