A new book looks at diversity, hospitality and division among Southern Christians

May 21, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  The former dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School is out with a new book that highlights some of the contradictions of Christianity as it’s practiced in the American South.

Dr. James Hudnut-Beumler is a Distinguished Professor of American Religious History. His latest research took him to eleven southern states and more than ten years to complete.

The professor says faith remains a vital part of southern life. He goes so far as to call it a “contact sport” with southerners working hard to follow “the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Using the shared literature and vocabulary of the Bible, King James Version preferred, to talk about important and sometimes trivial matters.”

But Dr. Hudnut-Beumler says there are glaring contradictions. On one side he notes that hospitality remains a strong imperative in southern culture. In addition, he says there’s now surprising diversity in Christian practice, outlook and doctrine.   

However, the professor says those difference are also being used to build walls.

“The various practitioners of Christianity don’t always recognize their fellow practitioners as members of the same tribe.”

The divisions have grown so pronounced, Dr. Hudnut-Beumler now uses the phrase “Christianities” when referring to the southern church.

The professor’s research is the subject of his latest book Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christianities in the American South.