The Church And Social Change In The South -- By: Thomas A. Bland

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 02:1 (Fall 1984)
Article: The Church And Social Change In The South
Author: Thomas A. Bland


The Church And Social Change In The South

Thomas A. Bland

Professor of Christian Ethics and Sociology,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

The southern regions of the United States are currently undergoing important social changes. The population is expanding at a higher rate than the national average. The sunbelt is increasingly attractive to persons from other regions and is growing fastest of all, both South and West. Parts of the South are becoming centers for high-tech industries. Texas now has more scientists than does Massachusetts. The Research Triangle of North Carolina has the largest concentration of persons holding the Ph.D. degree of any comparable land area in the nation. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has more highly educated residents per capita than any city in the nation, according to the 1980 United States census. The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is located in an area that is characterized by very desirable features, as noted in the preceding sentences. Moreover, we at Southeastern are in the midst of a rapidly urbanizing region which has been described by one urban sociologist as an example of what urbanism is going to be like in the twenty-first century: “decentralized, multinodal, multiconnective.”1

Lest the reader think this writer has become a promoter for the Chamber of Commerce let me hasten to note that the South is still a region of contrasts. Abject poverty and conspicuous wealth, poorly educated and well educated persons, and overtly religious and multitudes of unchurched people coexist in the South in the middle of the ninth decade of the twentieth century.

Where is the church in the South? In a word, everywhere, for the South continues to be .the most religious region in the nation. How is the church relating to the changing South? In general terms, the role of the church can be plotted along a spectrum extending from denial of change and resistance to change to the fostering of change and serving as a pro-active agent of change.

In this article I shall examine four aspects of our common life in the South under the headings of population, race and ethnicity, economics, and politics. In each instance the purpose will be twofold: to describe what is happening and to assess ways in which organized religion in the South impacts upon and interacts with each of the four items to be considered.

Prior to an examination of these topics there are three other matters which require attention: (1) What is meant by “the South”? What sociological and geographical data are pertinent in determining what the South is? To what extent is the South an identifiable and distinctive region in 1984? (2) What are so...

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