Faith in the Bible Belt
I grew up hearing that good things come to those who love the Lord; the Moreland, Georgia, Methodist Church was deeply and comfortably seated in the traditional interpretation of the Word. But religion, like so many other things, isn’t as simple as it used to be. Nowadays the good guys sometimes wear black and white striped hats instead of just one or the other.
Almost every day in the mail I receive a letter from some television evangelist asking me for a donation to help buy a new truck for his television equipment or to pay off the debt for the new gym at New Testament University. The implication is that if I don’t send them cash, I’m on the express train for hell.
Will I end down there with Hitler and Attila the Hun and Bonnie and Clyde just because I didn’t send them five bucks for a new wrestling mat? Then again, is hell actually down there?
“ Can you dig your way to hell?” I asked the preacher when I was a kid.
“ Guess you can,” he said, “ but I can tell you how to get there a lot quicker.”
My grandfather wouldn’t have cared much for today’s bigtime television preachers. In his oft-stated opinion, preachers were supposed to marry folks, preach funerals, mow the grass around the church and administer to the needs of his flock, which meant consoling the poor soul who lost his job, whose wife ran off, and whose trailer burned to the ground . . . all in the same week.
Our preacher even used to knock down the dirt dobbers’ nests in the windows of the sanctuary so the inhabitants wouldn’t bother the worshippers while he was trying to run the devil out of town on Sunday morning.
Do you suppose Oral Roberts or Jerry Falwell ever knocked down dirt dobbers’ nests?
My grandfather also didn’t like it when younger preachers used note cards to deliver their sermons. “ They ought to get it straight from the Lord,” he said many a time. “ Politicians use notes.”
The preacher at Moreland Methodist when I was growing up suited my grandfather just fine. He drove an old car. He had only one suit. He did the yard work, didn’t use note cards and always attempted to answer the questions of a 12-yearold boy when things didn’t add up. Once he even preached a funeral for a dog because that little boy, who loved the dog very much, asked him to.
What would Pat Robertson say over a dog?
What bothers me today is that for every glamour boy of the pulpit, there are thousands out there who tackle the devil daily, one on one, with little or no audience, against long odds, and, occasionally, on an empty stomach.
God bless them. And God, please don’t let my grandfather — I know he’s around there somewhere — find out that we’ve got preachers down here today who use cue cards and hang out with politicians.