Being a Progressive Christian in the Deep South

Most of my life, living in the Deep South, I have felt like a fish out of water.  Holding progressive views on race, immigration, sexual orientation, and women has made me truly weary.  These views and the people who hold them are so often condemned in Southern churches.  And because I have a weakness for wanting to be loved, I grieve greatly every time I am excluded for standing up for what I believe Jesus taught.  Most of my life, I have felt like an outcast and most of my life I have been.  However, I do find myself grieving less and less when I am rejected now.  I have learned spiritual disciplines, which enable me to open my heart to the Holy Spirit’s comfort and guidance and truly love those who condemn me.

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, Georgia, August 23, 2015
Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, Georgia, August 23, 2015

However, yesterday, as we stood in line for Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church where President Carter was teaching, I experienced something deep in my spirit that I had never experienced before.  We got there about 7am and cars were already lining the road outside the church even though Sunday school wouldn’t start for another 3 hours. It was such a friendly crowd, most were southern to the core, but others had come from all over the country.  One family near us was Jewish and from New York.  They had been vacationing at Disney World, when they learned that President Carter had cancer.  They decided to take a break from Disney World, rent a car, and drive to Plains to hear him teach Sunday School.  They were headed back to Disney World immediately after worship.

President Carter Teaching Sunday School August 23, 2015
President Carter Teaching Sunday School August 23, 2015

As we stood in line, a member of the church, driving an old beat-up truck that said, “I dig peanuts” came around – partly to entertain us while we waited, but partly to direct traffic.  His wife, who we also met, lived in the White House with the President while “home schooling” Amy.  He had even marched in the “peanut brigade” during the inaugural walk to the White House.

“Tell me about your church?” I asked.


He had been a member since the church was started in 1977.  It was started, because the big Baptist Church in town wouldn’t allow African-Americans to attend.  He told us over and over, “Everyone is welcome here!”

It suddenly struck me how President Carter had his beginnings in a town that did not share his view of Jesus’s teachings.  This stirs my soul – encourages me – gives me a connection that I never had before.  President Carter got his start and lived his entire life in a part of the country where he was in the minority – where racism, sexism, and homophobia were not only part of the religion then, but are still practiced proudly there today!

Sunrise over a Peanut Farm in Plains, Georgia
Sunrise over a Peanut Farm in Plains, Georgia

And yet, President Carter, against all odds, somehow made it to the White House.  And even yesterday, after finding out he had brain cancer, continued to teach others how to follow Jesus with a message that is the heart of the gospel: “Love your enemies!”

For the first time in my life, being progressive and a believer in Jesus didn’t feel lonely and burdensome.  It felt good to be a member of this tiny minority and so very grateful for this little band of Jesus followers in Plains, Georgia.

April, Steve, and the Carters, August 23, 2015

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

8 Comments on “Being a Progressive Christian in the Deep South

  1. Pingback: Welcome to My blog | April Love-Fordham

  2. Yes, thank you so much from a tiny progressive in a very bigoted part of NC. I have lived in the south all my life and I wish I had fled when I was young.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great, great article. My family and I also live in a small Georgia town about two hours east of Plains and share your spiritual frustrations and concerns. We were also fortunate to attend President Carter’s Sunday School class on Aug. 23. We left feeling truly renewed spiritually with the same gratitude you expressed here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The lives of millions of Iranians were destroyed in 1979-1980 by the bloody Islamic Revolution. Jimmy Carter was instrumental in the occurrence of this event, being the Chief Executive Officer of the country, he had all the powers and influence to stop this western allied decision right in its tracks. Yet he allowed the blood of millions of innocent people be spilled and the country disemboweled and destroyed, all for the sake of power, political and material gains….
    The hour of truth is near, and one ponders!


    • @Saaz: The “Islamic Revolution” you cite had its roots in the CIA propping up the Shah of Iran, several administrations prior to Carter’s. It is neither fair or accurate to blame him for that. Try reading some history before you throw stones

      Liked by 1 person

    • @Saaz again: Additionally, Carter was primarily responsible for the Camp David peace accords, ending years of war between Israel and Egypt…a peace accord that still exists to this day. Not the most friendly relationship right now, but they aren’t launching bullets at each other.



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