Being A Cultural Southern Baptist

I’ve written before on this blog about how the religious culture I was raised in shaped me, and how it continues to be important to me. Just as there are cultural Catholics and people who are culturally Jewish, I am culturally Southern Baptist.

Obviously, I no longer practice the Baptist faith, but it was a big part of who I am at one pint. As a tiny child I answered the altar call of great Baptist orator Dr. James Merritt (now involved in weird pyramid schemes and megachurches) at the First Baptist Church of Snellville, and attended Sunday School with his son Jonathan, who has been outed. He was a nice kid and has become a fantastic writer. I feel bad he’s having to deal with all of this so very publicly, although I find his response disturbing. Homosexuality simply is not a product of molestation, and as bad as I feel that he went through that, he was dressing with style in elementary school. This revelation is not so much of a surprise as a confirmation for me.

I went to “singings” and dinner on the grounds and youth outings and Vacation Bible School. My mother owned VBS. She checked the schedules of every church in the county, and planned it so she had free childcare all summer long. I sang staunch Protestant hymns with a drawl and endured the most abrasive lace-trimmed slips under hideous dresses that humankind has ever seen. I toted a Precious Moments pink Bible in a frilly floral bible case for years. I attended the seminars and read the literature of the Institute of Basic Life Principles.

Man, has the beat moved on.

However, I still love the sound of gospel music (particularly when sung by Kenny Klein) and I recognize that worship music (traditional and contemporary) is simply good spiritual technology. I miss the big church dinners full of fattening food, I miss having a weekly uplifting message, and I miss the singing. In the staid and proper South, church was the only place it was deemed acceptable to belt out a tune, and our trance-y, minor-key chants are no proper alternative to everyone turning into Ethel Merman for a few moments. I miss being in the congregation and I miss chairs and I miss a roof and walls when it’s cold and wet.

I’m not the only one. There is a reason so many Pagans are in the UU church. I can’t do the UU thing. It is simply not my thing. Maybe I feel it is so self-consciously liberal, so New York, so West Coast, so anything but Southern. It just feels wrong to me.

The two keys to being authentically Southern are being relaxed and being joyful, even if you are cussing someone out. Like with any strong regional culture, it should also give you the feeling that you belong. When I am among folks raised with fried chicken, cornbread and MoonPies, I feel right at home. Alan Jackson music makes me feel better on a bad day. Being Southern is about simple things that tend to be cheap. I get more excited over a cold watermelon than New York cheesecake. I’d rather have a glass of sweet tea than champagne.

The spiritual technology of a small Southern Baptist church doesn’t have much to do with the faith. There is no theology to Southern culture. I have never left that culture. I merely left the Christian faith.

So I’ve been thinking about a Southern-style congregational Paganism. Probably loosely Wiccanate in theology without restrictive dogma that would exclude anyone from participating. Maybe not Wiccanate, but with a loose pan-Pagan polytheistic worldview. Have coffee and muffins. Have joyful, belt-it-out-and-dance kind of music. Have a joyful, uplifting and inspirational message. Have dinner on the grounds. Have people stand up to make energy and prayer requests. Have people stand up and celebrate the good things happening in the world.

Not a coven or grove or lodge or circle. No initiations. No training. No students. No teachers. No deep metaphysical studies. No ritual or circle casting or magic. Just a celebration of being a human on the earth. Something a Heathen would find as enjoyable and uplifting as a Wiccan. Not a replacement for any Pagan tradition, but an addition to it. A celebratory, social addition to our communities. A weekly service to lift the heart as Pagans surely know how.

I’m not the only one considering syncretizing Southern culture with Paganism. Tent revivals are being adopted by Pagans in Texas and on the West Coast.

I’m mulling over creating such a group for joyful fellowship. I’m looking at spaces. I’m reaching out to local people for their thoughts. We’ll see what happens. Who knows? You may hear that Heathens and Witches and Hellenics and Druids are getting together on Sunday mornings to hoot and holler and sit on uncomfortable folding chairs to eat fried chicken together. If it takes off I’ll be sure to let y’all know. Then if you’re in the neighborhood you can stop by and visit for a spell.

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