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.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish!
Being Negative Is Healthy; Or It’s Good To Be An Ass Sometimes
Practical Polytheism: A Review of Devotio Antinoo
My Hopes For The Future of Paganism
About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Bianca Bradley

    I like that, and I do feel that is something we as Pagans are missing.  

  • Hdp1960

    I agree with you on many, many points. I think if American Paganism would stop trying to be British, it would be a relief. 

  • Lady GreenFlame

    Well, my husband/priest and I did something like that for a couple of years between 2002 and 2004. In our living room, mostly, every other Sunday afternoon. Any Pagan-y type or Pagan-friendly person could come. People sat in their regular clothes. We did not cast circle but did have a little make-the-space-sacred rite w/ the four elements. We passed a sword and everyone “sheathed the sword” to declare peaceful intent. We then had a positive, spiritual, uplifting message. We did not always have a potluck but we lived next to a park so afterwards, we’d go hang out at the park or go *get* some food. Not so much singing, unfortunately! But it was discernibly a congregational church service, albeit Pagan, and  not a ritual circle. And it was awesome. Alas, after 2 years and a move out of town, it got to be a lot, esp. when the hubs had to start working Sunday afternoons. We’re still good friends w/ a lot of folks who came.

  • Lady GreenFlame

    One more comment. – It’s really okay to be a “congregational Pagan.” Not everyone is cut out to live the life of a working priest or priestess. Also, one of our community’s limitations with this is money and space. We really had to pack ‘em in on some occasions and that was a big limitation to growth. We also got burnt out, frankly, being the ones in charge all the time and would have had to address that issue had my husband’s job not gotten in the way. But I think these issues can and should be worked out.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Don’t forget Wednesday night BoS study.

  • John Beckett

    I grew up in a very similar environment about 100 miles north and about 20 years earlier, although we never went anywhere as big as Snellville First Baptist. I liked it until I got to the age where they started talking about “if you’re not saved you’re going to hell.”  And that started a long process that ended with me figuring out I was a universalist, and later, a Pagan. 

    The music was powerful if not always on key.  The food was good.  The people were by and large good and caring, if overly judgmental (like we Pagans never do that).  Some of the preaching was moving, but much of it was bad theology presented poorly.  Still, the basic order of service (intro – singing – preaching – altar call) is very powerful and very flexible (thanks for the link).

    My personal practice is firmly rooted in Druidry and my group practice is happily in Unitarian Universalism (sorry it didn’t work for you – my wife feels the same way).  But if someone wanted to start a Southern Pagan Gospel meeting?  I’d be there in a minute…

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

     British or European? How far would you suggest American Paganism goes in ceasing this emulation?

    Paganism used to be the practice of acknowledging the local deities/spirits. Would you suggest that American Pagans/Paganism started acknowledging the local spirits/deities more and look to the European ones less?

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Is there a Pagan Hymnal out there for people to use in group singing? Because that’d be pretty cool.

  • Robin

    I think this would be a wonderful way to meet new people.

  • TheSeaHag

    I’ve been wishing for a Pagan church..type…thing for years now.  Temple, whatever.  (Although the closer it seems to Christianity in all respects, the less harassment I’d expect from “good, Christian” community members.)  I was raised Catholic–so very different from Southern Baptist in some ways–but we also had a strong church culture, at least in the small community church we went to when I was a kid.  Coffee and cake in the church basement after Mass, church bazaars and bake sales, even Halloween costume parties (and it wasn’t for preaching at us, we got candy and there were spooky decorations) for kids as a safe alternative to trick-or-treating.  My cousins and I felt as comfortable in our church as we did in our homes, and all the priests and nuns knew us by name.

    I don’t want anything to do with the theology of the Catholic, or any other Christian, church, but I do miss the community and fellowship.

  • W. Keith Baldwin

    I love it! Sure, a lot of folk are trying to get away from the stuff they remember from Christianity, but this was one of the *good* things, the way community is built.  This, and Church picnics, bake sales, etc (I’m Canadian – we had more of that than the loud revivals in my area).

  • Aidan Kelly

    Makes sense to me, having lived in New Orleans for about 2 years recently. Knew a lot of Pagans but just weren;t into starting another coven. Everyone in NOLA knows about and even practices a little voodoo, knowing it’s just a West African religion. The whole feeling is different. One Mardi Gras season, someone complained that the Bacchus parade, about as Pagan a celebration as I ‘ve ever seen, thoroughly Carnival as safety valve, should not be allowed on a Sunday morning, To which the Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans responded, “People with no sense of humor shouldn’t live in New Orleans.” They shouldn;t be Pagans either.

  • TheSeaHag

    I don’t see why we shouldn’t acknowledge local/regional spirits more.  I’ve been discussing this with Pagan friends for years.  As far as deities, I think that’s a more individual thing because, in my experience, They choose us at least as often as we choose Them.

    (There is also the issue of cultural appropriation to be considered.  We’ve probably all cringed at white USian Pagans who say they’re “into Native American spirituality” as though there is one homogenenous NA religion, or as though they have the right to pick at any NA traditions they happen to encounter.)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

     Basic respecting of the host, if nothing else.

    As I said, paganism used to be the acknowledging of the local spirits/deities.

    When I say ‘used to’, I mean ‘in ye olde tymes’.

    I, personally, see spirits and deities as regional. They are tied to their environment (much like most cultures throughout history have been.)

  • Kilmrnock

    Star , i know how you feel ………….i am a southerner as well , just barely . My family is from Eastern Shore MD aka Delmarva  , about as southern and down home as it gets . I  grew up on freid chicken and sweet tea as well .Grew up  Southern Methodist which at the time was a fairly liberal denomination. Luckily for me , altho many of them think i’m weird , and true it did take a while for them to adjust , i didn’t loose my family ties when i came out as pagan.Even found out i’m not the only one in the family  .And gods help me i love a cold watermelon , my wife who btw is from Chicago calls me a Druid good ole boy . I’m even a nascar fan …… Mechanic by trade.Isn’t that sorta an oxymoron ………….so it goes . I still revelle in southern culture , i’m even patriotic , love dixie rock and some country music. Was raised between Chrisfield MD and Northern delaware by eastern shore folks , all my relatives .You are right , we are missing a good ole fashioned revival type gathering for us southern pagans . And like you most of us didn’t stop being southern when we came to the pagan ways .A place for us to hang w/ other southern pagans and enjoy southern culture is way over due . I’m in lass. Just let me know where and when .    Kilm aka Dennis    PS   Look at a map of the east coast , find New Jersey[mid atlantic east coast] and Look below jersey . See that peninsula on the eastern side of MD , thats the east side of Maryland , Delaware , and the southern tip is Virginia , hense the Delmarva Peninsula or to us locals Delmarva or the Eastern shore .Surrounded by the Chesapeake and Delaware bays , some coastal atlantic ocean . Add Seafood to your typical southern diet and you have what i grew up on , mostly local fish , hard shell crabs and good salty oysters .