I was up doing some reading this morning. Typically, I reserve morning reading time for Scripture, but the kids were sleeping in and I finished my morning readings, so I hopped over to Facebook for a few minutes.
I was raised in the Southeast region of the U.S. - Mississippi, to be exact. I've lived most of my life in the South, but I've traveled a pretty good portion of the U.S., and visited several countries. From my earliest memories, I've always wanted to travel and live overseas. Missions to unreached countries or less churched areas of the U.S. was always a given in my mind. I was aware from an early age that we had perhaps an "oversaturation" of professing Christians in my area. I later learned that there is a term for this part of the country - "the Bible belt".
So, it is natural to assume that the South is doing just fine when it comes to the gospel and Bible teaching and whatnot. Perhaps some of us should move on to an area of higher need.
What I found on Facebook this morning saddened me deep into my soul. First, I read this article from the New York Times comparing the quality of life in the different counties across the U.S. Of course the part of the country I grew up in and have lived in for most of my life, the Southeast, comes up near the bottom of the list.
This information isn't really news to any of us, is it? Why is it that the region of the country that has the most churches, the most preachers, the most professing Christians, is also consistently the worst region to live in when it comes to things like education, obesity, unemployment, poverty, food scarcity and on and on? I love my State. It is full of beautiful people and kind people and giving people. What is the deal? Where is the disconnect?
I think it's because we're preaching a castrated gospel. We want to reduce the gospel to a story and a prayer when it's really so much more powerful than that. There is so much more to do this side of heaven than pray a prayer and slap a christian sticker on our bumper. I realize now that the gospel is not just about Christ coming and dying for us and rising again. Yes, that's amazing. Yes, he is God. Yes, it should be proclaimed as the reason for all else. It's obviously super important that his death was substitutionary atonement for our sins. If that were all there is to the story, it would be enough.
But do you know what else the gospel is? The gospel is a God who gave up his nice cushy house in heaven to move to a ghetto called "earth" where he had to sweat and hurt and deal with our issues for 33 years before he got to go back home. He did that for us, and I think that it's an example of what we should be willing to do for our fellow sojourners here on this earth. That's what the phrase "Thy Kingdom Come" means to me.
God's been watering the seed of a new calling in my heart, and it's starting to sprout. I have a passion for the Church in the South. She raised me the best she knew how. She's still the bride of Christ. She needs to rise up and fight for her people, and I think it's going to start with the Christians here waking up and realizing that they are to live like missionaries in a bleeding, hurting, stinky world.
I live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi right now. It was when I moved here for college something like 10 years ago that I first heard the term "white flight". This is in reference to the fact that anyone who has the means to leave this area and move to a nicer school district and a safer neighborhood does so as quickly as possible. There's obviously a racial issue alluded to here, also, which I'll get to in a minute. Does it please God when we take our families and hightail it out of the places where we are needed most?
So, my questions without answers are, in addition to those already discussed - Are all of these studies an accurate representation of the South? What's the deal? What can I reasonably expect Christians here to do? What should I do? I've written about our family's journey as we wrestle with this issue, but I don't know if we're to expect the same from all believers, or at least more of them? Why is the South so poor, so fat, so far behind when it comes to education? What can be done, on a governmental level? A corporate level? A personal level? The biggest question of all, though, is this: What can the church do about it? Can we stop pursuing better jobs in better neighborhoods with better benefits? Can we vow to be good samaritans to our neighbors and make sacrifices to help them on their journey? How is it that we are to do that anyway? How ridiculous is it that most of us are so far removed from poverty that we don't even know how to help, other than to give some money somewhere? How angry should we be that most churches spend more of our tithes on staff salaries and building maintenance than they do taking care of the hungry and dying and hurting in the name of Christ?
After I read the previous article, I came across this one about the past (and present) racial tension in my home state of Mississippi.
I know that the South is ground zero when it comes to racial tension. As the Judge Reeves states in the article, our state's soil "has been stained with the blood" of African American individuals throughout our nation's history.
Just a few weeks ago, my family visited our former town of residence, and I overheard a school principal talking about the merits of their magnet program. It went something like this:
"Now, I have to be honest, we are a mostly black school, but our magnet students stay in their bubble. We don't associate with the other students. Also, the only black students we have in our magnet program are students of teachers. You can be assured that we don't hire local black teachers, we only hire from up north or other regions. We don't hire ghetto black teachers."
What. The. Hell.
Did I mention that this conversation was overheard at church?
Now, I will keep the identity of this woman anonymous. Mainly because I do not know her name, but also because I know something else. I have no doubt that this lady is a kind person. A loving person. A person genuinely concerned about her student's education and well-being. I've heard a lot about the magnet program she works with, and it's excellent. She's also got some very wrong thinking about a very important topic and that's a very dangerous thing. That's the thing about racist people. They are not just racist people. They're also often pretty good folks. Like most of us, generally alright in most areas but royally screwed up in others. Racism runs deep in our culture, and it's a stubborn streak that won't be rubbed out without some intentional effort on the part of my generation. It's holding us back.
Bleh. I feel too ignorant to really talk about these important issues, but I'm deeply concerned for Christ's church and my home state. I'm turning to you readers for input. What are your thoughts?