We all know the phrase, but where exactly is The Bible Belt? It is a geographical region in the South and midsection of the United States. Learn about why and how it came to be called this...
The "Bible Belt" is a slang term used for a geographical region in the South and the midsection of the United States -- areas that host large groups of fundamentalist Christians.
To be a true Bible Belt Christian, you must have a clear understanding of the things you don't do, like smoking, dancing, going to the pool hall, drinking, or making a public appearance without a Bible in hand. You must believe that your actions are controlled by the Holy Spirit and that doing God's will is the most important part of your life -- no matter what scoffers might think.
Some say that certain people in the Bible Belt go overboard in both their religious and political (usually conservative) practices. But Bible Belters believe that their lives are totally controlled by God and they could no more change their ways than fly. Furthermore, they don't apologize for their seemingly irrational behavior. Like a favorite bumper sticker declares, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."
The Great Awakening was the beginning of the movement. If there was a "Bible Belt" in America before then, it was located in the North with such groups as the Massachusetts Puritans and the Pennsylvania Quakers. But, about 1790, something happened. It was as if a great wave suddenly flooded the land. The second Pentecost had begun.
Religion has always been an important part of American life. Since the 1600's over 85% of the population had participated in some kind of church activity. Towards the end of the 17th Century, however, religious fervor took on an even greater ferocity. It was then that America experienced its first great revival and todays fundamentalist Bible Belt is a direct result.
The "Great Awakening", which had swept the British Isles, infiltrated the American Colonies. The Southern states, especially, received this "new birth" with fervor. Some said it was because of the great population of blacks below the Mason-Dixon Line. Others said it was because because the Southerner was closer to God than anyone else. It simply depended on who was doing the talking.
Preachers scattered across the country healing, raising the dead and collecting money. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and other denominations, were swept up in the Great Revival. The Holy Spirit was moving and so was the human spirit. Although some revival meetings were bogus -- scam artists and frauds taking advantage of the faithful -- not all were a ruse. In Finis Ewing's lecture on sanctification, he delivered strong testimony on the subject. An anecdote illustrates that these people had abiding spiritual power.
A gentleman went with some wicked associates to hear Ewing preach. As he had never heard Ewing, his comrades bet him twenty dollars that he could not go into the church and sit through the sermon without going to the mourner's bench when Ewing made the inevitable call for converts. He took the bet, sat through the sermon, resisted the call for mourners, going, instead, to his comrades. "Gentlemen." he said. "I have won the bet but I want none of your money. From this hour on, as long as I live, I shall not rest til I find salvation."
Another incident comes from Rev. Thomas Calhoun, who was at a camp meeting at Rock Spring camp-ground, in Overton County, Tennessee.
On Sabbath morning at breakfast, someone told him that two desperate young men had bound themselves by a solemn oath to break up the meeting that day. Calhoun replied, "We'll see."
Immediately after breakfast he went to his usual retreat, the woods, where he remained in prayer till time to begin the eleven o'clock sermon. Then he entered the rustic pulpit and announced his text. He repeated what had been told him at breakfast, adding: "I am a preacher called and sent from God. You shall this day see, and know, and acknowledge, that God is with me, and is able to give me the victory over all the opposition of men and devils."
At that moment the two desperate young men rose to their feet and, with loud oaths, began cursing the preacher and the meeting, and moving through the crowd with noisy efforts at disturbance. Calhoun went on with his sermon. No human voice could keep his from being heard. The piercing power of his sentences made people forget all disturbances. His eagle eye held the congregation. People were weeping. Hearts were lifted to God in prayer. The poor, silly young men who were trying to disturb the worship, could not help but hear.
Presently one, then the other, of these two would-be disturbers of God's worship fell, like Saul of Tarsus, prostrate to the earth. They both were converted that day and one of them became a minister of the gospel. He eventually died proclaiming salvation to the lost.
As I said, camp meetings were common through the South. These meetings consisted of singing, preaching and eating; activities that sometimes went on all day.
From Presbyterians to Shouting Methodists to Holy Rollers, religion took the South by storm. Many sermons came as hell fire and brimstone preaching. Congregations responded with muscular spasms known as the 'jerks.' They leaped, crawled, and rolled on the ground, Wept, moaned, and screamed in gibberish as they wrestled with the Devil. "Presently," wrote Peter Cartwright, one of the foremost evangelists, "the gloom would lift, a smile of heavenly peace would break forth and conversion always followed."
Rev. James Finley, one of the best-known ministers of that era, told a congregation in Tennessee that as many as five hundred people at a time had "the jerks." These people would bend their bodies backward, then forward, so far that their heads almost touched the ground -- back and forth, back and forth.
Samuel Porter Jones was born in Alabama. He studied law and was accepted to the Georgia bar in 1868. He was known as witty lawyer and a great public speaker. In 1878, though, his life took a change and he began a preaching ministry. He had told his father on his deathbed that he would convert from his life of sin and drinking. Six years after his father died, he converted. Southerners flocked to church meetings. Preachers delivered hell-fire and brimstone sermons that caused the congregations to shout, flail their arms, jump and dance around. Many felt a strange power causing them to fall and sometimes would remain prostrate for hours. This was named a "falling exercise", later known as "slain in the Spirit".
The dubious felt these exercises -- or happenings -- were faked. But after many northern ministers had traveled the Southern circuit, preaching in different churches, they came to the conclusion that the majority of these people that fell down or waved there arms around were being controlled by a much higher Power. This same Power has the same effect on some people today.
Written by Thomas Miles Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc