Alabama and Mississippi continue to top the list of the “most Christian” states in our nation, according to those who know such things.
This assessment must be based on some sort of institutional metrics, such as the number of churches per capita, average weekly church attendance and annual giving reports; whatever quantifiable institutional data points are used to land Alabama and Mississippi in an annual virtual tie for “buckle on the Bible Belt.”
Given the canyon which yawns ever wider between popular evangelical Christianity and the person from whom Christianity got its start all those years ago, one wonders what Jesus would think about the buckle on the Bible Belt if he ever passed along Interstate 20.
Walking straight through the heart of the Bible Belt’s buckle – Pell City to Birmingham, Bessemer to Tuscaloosa, Meridian to Brandon, Jackson to Clinton, Vicksburg to The River and beyond – what might Jesus think about what we have become?
To read the four Gospels is to see that Jesus spent his life sitting down with and standing up for whoever was most marginalized, ostracized, stigmatized, dehumanized, powerless, voiceless and alone; calling his followers to join him in a life of empathy, solidarity and welcome as wide as the wingspan of God; standing up for anyone who is on the margins by standing up against anything that keeps them there (See Matthew 7:1-5, 8:10-13, 12:1-7, 21:12; Mark 2:15-17, 10:17-22, 11:15, 12:28-34; Luke 4:16-30, 5:29-32, 14:12-13, 15:1-32; John 4:1-26, 8:1-11).
A moral justice kind of life which got Jesus crucified then, and for which, in 2023, Jesus would be derided and dismissed as “woke” and “liberal” by the kind of Christianity which dominates the bandwidth in the buckle on the Bible Belt.
The buckle on the Bible Belt is broken. Indeed, one might even say that the Bible Belt has become, instead, the Ballot Belt.
In a stunning contradiction of the spirit of the Jesus of the four Gospels, whoever can propose the most hurtful policies concerning LGBTQ persons, strike the most friendly poses with an assault weapon, and take the most unwelcoming positions against immigrants can most effectively court the support of the Bible Belt’s “evangelical Christian base.” It’s enough to make one wonder if Christianity can survive Christianity.
If the four Gospels are a trustworthy record of the words and works of Jesus, then we don’t have to wonder what he would say concerning the issues of the day.
The Jesus who told his disciples to put down their swords would tell us to stand against the rampant availability of assault weapons on our streets. Anyone who knows anything about Jesus knows that.
The Jesus who spent his life standing up for anyone who was on the margins by standing up against anything that put them there, would call on his friends to work for racial and social justice here and now.
The Jesus who is reported to have said that all the holy words in all the holy books could be summed up in a single simple sentence – “Treat all others as you wish to be treated” (Matthew 7:12) – would call those who claim his name to denounce public policies poisoned by Christian nationalism, white supremacy, xenophobia and homophobia, and embrace, instead, a life of kindness, understanding, welcome and love.
The Jesus who went about healing the sick and suffering would most definitely want all persons to have equal access to health care without regard for their income, which means that if Jesus came to Alabama and Mississippi today, he would urge our leaders to expand Medicaid, not because Jesus would be a Republican or a Democrat but because Jesus would be the same Jesus this time that he was last time.
If the four Gospels are a trustworthy record of the words and works of Jesus, then we don’t have to wonder what he would say about the pressing issues of the day.
The question for those of us who are serious about following Jesus is not, “What would Jesus say?” The question is, “What will we do?”
After 45 years of pastoral life, during which he served churches in Georgia, North Carolina,Washington DC, and Jackson,Mississippi, Poole retired in 2022. He is the author of eight books, including The Path to Depth (Nurturing Faith Books, 2022), as well as numerous published articles and the lyrics to three hymns.