Religion: Old-time “Mixed Marriages” in the South … at least Where I Grew Up

By  “ancient” and “archaic” standards, I am the product of a “mixed marriage”. Does that mean I’m half black and half white?

No … NOT HARDLY!!.

Du-uhhh!!! (pronounced with two syllables with a slight upper inflection on the latter)

It means my father was a Methodist and my mother was a Baptist. And, the dilemma should have been, “Where do we go to church on Sunday?”, but it wasn’t. We attended the Methodist Church, of course.

In the South,especially the rural South, there is a church hierarchy: … everything else, … the Baptists and … the Methodists … but you have to be raised a Methodist out in the “boonies” to appreciate this. Otherwise, you either don’t get it … or viciously disagree.

Baptists accept everyone … just about … even Jimmy Carter.  But, Methodists … well, you have to consider yourself slightly up a notch … and then you’re a Methodist. If you look closely, you’ll notice most of the farmers are Baptists … unless they’re really, really big farmers (or those who think they’re really, really big farmers). And … a lot of the store owners … are Baptists. But …, where do you find the bankers, lawyers, doctors …and insurance agents …? At the Methodist Church, of course, … along with the children and descendants of bankers, lawyers and doctors … and insurance agents … and … really, really big farmers.

It’s really sort of interesting if you think about it … and study it.

Methodists are really Episcopalians sort of lost in the wilderness … and used to call themselves the Methodist Episcopal Church (ergo, the AME or African Methodist Episcopal Church) … or … they called themselves Anglicans … in colonial times, you know, before the “big split”. But now, they’re simply “Methodists” … or “United Methodists”. That’s what they changed their name to when the national organization stole all of the church property from the individual congregations … or so my father said. He always emphatically stated he wasn’t a “united” anything … but a plain ole’ Methodist … period. So there.

“Methodism” is really fairly interesting and basically simple. It was a devised “method” of practicing the Anglican form of the Protestant faith. During the early days of John Wesley, the Anglican Church, or Church of England, required all of it’s congregations to be attended by ordained ministers or priests at formal churches which were few and far between in England. At least, that was the excuse for poor attendance.

John Wesley, as a young Anglican minister, promoted the idea of lay ministers to attend lay congregations in the smaller communities that found it difficult or impossible to travel to the specified churches.(In other words, they just didn’t want to go.) He also set up a “method” or way for them the be organized and conduct their business … thus …”Methodism”. John Wesley was “the Missionary” of the Anglican Church. He went and sought out all of the recalcitrants and gave them no excuse for not attending church.

The colony of Georgia had a particular history with John Wesley. During it’s early days, Wesley actually traveled from England to Georgia during the governorship of James Oglethorpe and preached to congregations there … such as the one at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. A small Methodist church still exists on the site near the fort where Wesley preached to Frederica’s congregation under the Spanish moss draped oaks. So, don’t tell anyone but … Methodists “KNOW” their denomination “IS” the real “secret” official religion of the state of Georgia … and everyone else are really heretics.

But the Baptists … ahhhh … the “fire and brimstone” Baptists. Now, there’s a history worth telling. Steeped in the traditions of John Calvin, John Knox and other fervent protestants like the Pilgrims, or Congregationalists, that thought the Church of England or Anglicans were still too “papist”, they are descended from the true firebrands of Protestantism. In fact, the first Baptist congregation in America actually migrated from Maine where it originally settled to Charleston, SC. … where it has continued to flourish in the congregation of the First Baptist Church of that city.

This congregation in this church is where the “War Between the States” notion of “brother against brother, cousin against cousin” actually came into being … if you didn’t know it … at least more or less. These people in Charleston came from New England. They had family … cousins up there. Look it up … the same names. These were the original slave owners and abolitionists that were related to each other … and hated each other. The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was a damned family feud … between  two related bipolar groups of religeous fanatics!!

What Baptist in the South isn’t familiar with the name Furman, whether it be the university in Greenville, SC or its namesake, Richard Furman, the first and long time minister of First Baptist Church in Charleston. All Baptists who are familiar with their history know that Furman developed the organization of the Baptist Church as it exists in this country today, plus or minus its northern and southern juxtapositions.

Furman devised the plan to organize missionaries to go out among the pioneers and settlers of the South to introduce them to the Baptist faith … and convert them. That active pursuit of conversions and soul saving is the reason that the Baptist faith is so prominent in the South today.

The Baptist mission has been so successful and insidious in that South that, for all intents and purposes, a Methodist is really more of a “high” Baptist than a “low” Episcopalian  … although in some places, especially in some congregations around Charleston, you would think the Methodists are trying to compete with the Episcopalians  … or even Catholics … with kneeling and all.

In studying the genealogy of my paternal ancestors in the South, I know that they were originally Anglican in 17th century Virginia in old Lynhaven Parish on the coast and probably still so in 18th century coastal North Carolina. But, when they moved to Georgia in the immediate post Revolutionary War days, they were swept up in the fervor of the missionaries from Charleston working the frequently desolate and dangerous frontier regions of that newborn state … and became members of the Baptist communities there … whether in Jefferson County near the old capital city of Louisville … or old expansive Dooly County in the former Indian lands of the southwestern part of the state in what later became Baker then Dougherty counties, in the earliest congregations of  old Palmyra Baptist Church with the Mercers (as in Mercer University). Then, somehow, my great-grandfather getting a medical degree converted his branch of the family to Methodism … at least for the most part … along with subsequent Methodist ministers, more physicians … and lawyers … and probably insurance agents … and all, including politicians … and married to the sister of one really, really, really  … really big farmer.

Well, what about the Lutherans, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and everyone else.

And the Mennonites …

Okay.

Well, there were … and are … Primitive Baptists. Won’t go there.

Catholics … rare out in the country … if you don’t count “Gone With the Wind”. My college roommate for three years was Catholic and eventually convinced my Baptist mother that they really didn’t have two heads and a tail. They’ve been my second family ever since “then” … (“then” being college …  not my mother’s epiphany).

Seventh Day Adventists … nice people … came from Oklahoma …women don’t wear make-up and they all work hard raising chickens and growing corn.

Mormons … you know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Well … ask a Baptist minister. He’ll give you the ‘lowdown’ on them.

Lutherans? Sure … protestants … Martin Luther, good guy … right? They’re okay people. Work hard … most of the time. Think they’re Methodists with a red door. Right across the street from the Methodist church. See? Says, Lutheran right on the sign. Sure. One of “us”. A good chunk of my classmates growing up were … Lutherans, all decended from the crowd that originally settled in Newberry, SC.

Mennonites. Whoah!!!

They have a big sign (even if you don’t see it) that says, “Don’t mess with us!” (Imagine the Terminator, aka Arnold, saying that.) “Don’t mess with us!!

… no frills, no buttons, no make-up, black cars, no government “hand outs”, their own schools, big families, lots of kids and work … work … work.

Like I said … the sign, “Don’t mess with us”. (Arnold’s Terminator voice again)

Nice people …really … and great cooks.

Just … don’t mess with ’em.

Okay. This has been my primer on Southern religion where I grew up and what a “mixed marriage” used to mean … and probably more than you wanted to know (or I should have said). And Bill Maher thinks he knows everything about religion? Humph!! Bozo (Maher) …

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Post discourse dialogue:

YOU:

“HEY!!!

Wait a MINUTE!!!!

This is all SOCIAL!!!

This doesn’t have anything to do about religion … or GOD!!!”

ME:

“So …?

Actually, you’re battting .500!

… everything about religion … nothing about GOD.

Exactly.

We all believe in the same GOD … more or less. That’s not the point.”

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3 Responses

  1. Interesting writing I will come back soon:)

  2. RaiulBaztepo,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked it. I know it’s a little irreverent, but I think it gives, at least in my perception, a little insight into the religious sociology, that either still exists or existed in the rural South.

  3. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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