“Our dead are greater and more fully alive than we are when we forget them, it is our whole future that we lose sight of…” —text from a plaque I saw on the exterior of a fieldstone fireplace at a log cabin inside the stockade at Fort Harrod
A few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine died, a guy from a church that I used to attend. He and his family had always been very nice to me, and I was a guest at his house many times. I was sorry to hear of his death, and went to the viewing at the funeral home. He had since moved on to another Baptist church, while I have gone Reformed/Calvinist. This got me to thinking again about associations based solely on propositions.
In this post I do not wish to delve into doctrinal differences between the IFB movement and my conservative Reformed theology, or between the various evangelical churches in my area. I wish to examine these churches from a *cultural* perspective, not a doctrinal one.
The two Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Churches that I spent much time in from my teens until five years ago both had many non-worship functions/get-togethers, and both used the term *church family*. But it was not really a family. Church family is not kin, those who have commonly shared “ancestors” as mentioned in the afore-referenced plaque at Fort Harrod.
One can try to buy into this concept of *church family*, but one can easily see that others (including church leadership) do not really practice it when around their own family (even ones not a member of their church). And I *do not* fault them for preferring their own family over random strangers who happened to profess adherence to a few common religious/doctrinal propositions. I *do* fault them for propagating the myth of church family, which they know is not true.
I left the last IFB church politely, and I am still friendly when I see it’s people in public. But I now see that most of them never were my people.
The *local* full-out Arminian evangelical churches that I was exposed to before the age of 12 were made up of *local* people. Many of them had, and still have, *local* pastors, not necessarily seminary trained (whether for good or for ill), but men who were raised around here. Notice the emphasis on *local*. In my childhood, the pews were filled by local White folk. These local church folks often had kin, cultural, personal friendship, and business association ties that existed outside of church services. In some churches particular families were “pillars”, with large numbers of attendees and great influence in church government.
Not so with either IFB church I was a member of. The first was primarily White, but was organized/started by a ministry professional who was a transplant from Chicago, and then pastored by an ex-professional missionary who had put a few decades in Papua New Guinea. The pastor and his wife were from different states, had met at a Bible college in another state, lived overseas for decades, and then came here (where neither of them had any family). And the song leader was from another state (maybe Minnesota, it has been awhile). They later left, going to a church job in yet another state that neither of them were from. I think that the locals always viewed this church as outsiders.
The second IFB church, that I took an even deeper personal part in, was even more openly misfit, considered outsiders by the locals. This church was pastored by a man born in another state, with a wife from a different state over 1,000 miles from his home, who had met at a Bible college in yet another state. The song leader was not from here, and had lived everywhere from Michigan to California before coming here. Other families came from all over. When I left there, I believe that only about ½ the adults there had been born within 100 miles of the meeting house.
In this second IFB church the women generally wore skirts (a good thing) and homeschooled their children (also good). They were also into large families and natural health practices, two things of only moderate interest to me. In time, some large *fairly local* families did start coming to the services, but I believe they were drawn there by the large family and natural health culture of the church more than by the doctrines preached.
The adult transplants at this church made no real effort to learn and respect the existing regional culture of the people of the area, those they were trying to win. Several were constantly talking of far away states that they had lived in, and how wonderful they were compared to here. This does not sit well with locals, especially those with multi-generational ties to their region. While I attended this church, I was a guest at a wedding of two young IFB people from home churches 1,500 miles apart! Eventually that preacher also moved on to another state, as is common in the IFB movement.
Most Americans have lost sense of who they are, including those who profess Christ. They are transfixed on personally selected identifications, not natural identifications. They neglect kin ties to pursue associations based *solely* on religious or political ideology, or worse yet, that are simply for their economic benefit. The only people who want a proposition-only society, or such group for their religious and social needs, are people who have no local group that they feel a natural and organic connection to.
Best-selling author Colin Woodard, a native of New England and a mainstream figure, openly admits the existence of the eleven distinct regional cultures that make up the U.S.A. in his thought provoking 2011 book American Nations. And though he is very anti-racist, Woodard admits that these regional cultures are rooted in different ethnic origins. Of course they are. Regional culture is not independent of race, it is a product of it.
I am from *Greater Appalachia*, part of the three brother cultures that make up what Woodard terms the *Dixie Block*. Further, I am a part of Kentuckiana, a regional subculture within Greater Appalachia. Kentuckiana is the land on both sides the Ohio River, culturally and economically centered around Louisville, Kentucky. I have had some (not all) of my ancestors living within a 75 mile radius of Louisville since 1780. I was not just born here; my roots run deep here.
I am not denigrating the other regional cultures of the White folk of the U.S.A. I also embrace the right of non-white peoples to have their own territories, where they can express their own cultures. Everyone should have a people, and a place where they belong. This is Biblical, the historical pattern, and natural. Embrace your roots.
While it is obvious that my blog is written from a Dixie Block perspective, I certainly appreciate all my blog readers, regardless of which regional White subculture of the U.S.A. they hail from. (And also, hello to my readers in Canada, who as of two days ago, made up 11% of my “unique visitors” this November).
Proposition only groups never work out long term. Whether they are based on politics, religion, race, or agrarian ideals -they all tend to fail when not also united by regional culture -by the extended kin. Michael Bunker’s fractured agrarian community in central Texas is one example of this, of how people gathered from all over America for an ideology (even a pretty good ideology) tend to have problems.
And when groups are not made up of people of a shared culture with multi-generational ties, it makes it easy for an outsider to move in as leader/preacher/whatever and work the people for cash and personal benefits. That is the nasty truth of it.
With me, it is not an either/or with religion and race. One should marry within *both* their faith and their race, and preferably also within their regional culture. I am more than an ideology. I am a White man, a Southerner from Kentuckiana, an advocate of agrarianism, and a Christian of Reformed/Calvinist doctrine. All of this matters.
Regional culture is real. Your family are those with whom you share direct ancestors, and their spouses. Church family really means nothing.