What it’s like Dealing with White Jesus in the South
This is part of our Blue Woman in a Red State column
One of the first things that people ask you when you first move to Chatanooga is, “What church do you belong to?” Have you found one yet? They assume, you’re a “God-Fearing American,” not like that mackerel-snapping Catholic President Joe Biden (just another flavor of Christian, but hush).
I am told that in the 1970’s, Eastern Tennessee was considered the heart of The Bible Belt. But since then it has shifted into a U shape, from Eastern Tennessee down through Mississippi, Arkansas to Texas to Oklahoma. As it still stands, you still can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of church or place of worship.
They’re a big fans of Jesus here, and honestly, the idea of Jesus is great! Jesus was the ultimate socialist; he wanted everyone to have food, poor people to be clothed and housed. He wanted us to treat each other with compassion and not be greedy. That’s where that phrase What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) came from. But somehow, Jesus gets caught up in protecting people’s guns, and their taxes, and their football teams and of course, he spoke English like all the “best” Americans. Seems as though most people out here don’t realize Jesus was a brown Jew, not Tim Tebow with a beard, although Hobby Lobby wants you to think that. Hell, I am not even sure if Jesus had a beard. My own ideas of what Jesus looks like are being misconstrued as we speak.
My life’s journey and education has taught me that religion is ruined by churches and the people in them. They manipulate sacred texts to help their own personal and political beliefs and try to pass it on as doctrine.
From what I have been told by an old-timer I chat with regularly at the Piggly Wiggly, traditionally, in the South your church defines you and how great of a life you lead. True, there are many people moving towards a more secular life, and have no problem separating church and state, but there is a long way to go.
My question is, how did this vision of Jesus become so misconstrued? Also, how do the actual edicts of Jesus become so convoluted? Real Jesus, was a man, most religions believe this. I don’t think anyone, has disputed his actual existence – but he is definitely around in the psyche of humanity, even if he isn’t in the form of Jesus. The Muslims thought he was cool although he isn’t the focus. But there are churches that just lose that Jesus-y feeling entirely. They rag on gay people, they don’t believe in WIC, or welfare or food stamps. Basically, anything where someone gets a “handout.” They get angry when women get abortions, but vote against programs that take care of the poor, which usually comes from a taxing of resources.
Through some random chat, a neighbor’s friend believes that dragons were real because St Jerome is fabled to have slain a dragon. Genuinely, looked in her eyes, and she believed dragons had once been real. Jesus, or God, created dragons and the world. A SAINT had actually slain one, so that must mean, they were animals that God created. But dinosaurs, as I came to find out, were a non-starter -nor was evolution, or science. Dragons yes, T-rex? No.
Here we are, 2022, and there are people burning books like Harry Potter because it talks about witchcraft, and weird elected officials trying to pass bills that don’t allow teachers in public schools to say things that would negate the Bible. Things, like science, or evolution would not be allowed to be talked about in state-run schools; public schools. They are trying to raise a new generation of flat-earthers. Separating Church and State is huge, and every day these things are slowly eating away at that ideal.
Today I will celebrate Jesus a brown skinned, bearded, Palestinian Jew, a socialist who loved the poor & preached against the rich, was a refugee, hung out with sex workers, and would have been hated by those who propagate racism, bigotry and hatred today. Merry Xmas 🎅✊🏾✊🏿❤️ pic.twitter.com/OX8RODmUWV
— asad rehman (@chilledasad100) December 25, 2019
Which version of the Bible, I am not quite sure who would decide that.
They’re not ALL that bad, not all Christians tell you how to live your life, approach you at Target with that huge phony smile, and make you wonder what their angle is. Not all Christians tell you when you can and can’t eat good chicken sandwiches. For the most part, people leave you alone here, and they flinch a little if you declare a non-Christian lifestyle. I am sure, in more rural places in the South, they may chalk it up to witchcraft of sorts.
Most of the time, Christian and conservative go hand in hand. There are extremes to the spectrum, and I know I often really generalize in these pieces, but I am not sure how to get my world view across by saying “sometimes” just know, that it is always a “sometimes.” What really gets me is how being super Jesus turns into vitriol and exclusionary real-quick. I mean, right now, I am making sweeping generalizations about Christians, and not even backing up any evidence. But hey, this is an opinion piece and not a brilliant piece of investigative journalism.
What seems to have been happening in the last ten or fifteen years, is that the university towns and better education start to influence ways of life. With this huge influx of people moving to the South from big cities with high speed internet and working from home options, we start to see how different beliefs meld into more forward thinking citizens and continues to push Chattaooga into a better direction.