The Persistence of Place: A Conversation with John Shelton Reed

Interview with John Reed

Thinking in Public

February 21, 2011

(This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated)

Mohler: This is “Thinking in Public”, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your host, and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

John Shelton Reed is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also their director of the Howard Odum Institute for Research and Social Science. And he helped to found the university’s Center for the Study of the American South. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the National Humanities Center, and a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. He’s been president of the Southern Sociological Society and the Southern Association for Public Opinion Research. And he’s also one of the world’ greatest experts on barbeque. John Shelton Reed welcome to Thinking in Public.

Reed: Thank you, thank you Dr. Mohler. There are other people who would claim to know more than I do about barbeque who would fight about that.

Mohler: Well, I tell you what. I do find you a great guide to that. And we’ll get to that eventually, but I want to begin with what’s been at the heart of your project as a scholar from the very beginning. I want to ask you a question. Does region really matter anymore? Does regionalism really factor into our cultural identity any longer?

Reed: Obviously, I think it does. And I think most ordinary people think it does. W.J. Cash wrote a book back in 1940 called The Mind of the South and, at that time, he said there are these people who say region doesn’t really matter anymore that the South looks like the rest of the country or alternatively the South is so varied internally that you can’t talk about it as a unit. Incidentally notice both of those things can’t be true. He says the people who say this are journalists, academics. Everybody else knows better. Yes, region makes a difference in all kinds of things. I mean start with religion for example. The South is the one part of the world where… church evangelical protestant groups like yours are the dominant religion culturally and numerically. Go to Utah and say that region doesn’t matter or New England for that matter. Religious regionalism is alive and well. It’s changing. I mean we’re getting Latino Catholics in places that didn’t have many Catholics before. But to say it’s changing isn’t to say it’s ceasing to matter.

Mohler: Well, let’s talk about that religion regionalism for just a moment. I’ve been with you and you’ve actually set out maps that kind of graphically demonstrate this. Just walk us across the continental U.S. what does that regionalism look like?

Reed: Well, ok, New England which of course we think of as Puritanism and hasn’t been for a long time, it’s predominantly Roman Catholic. I think the last time I looked, Rhode Island was the most Catholic state in the Union. That may have changed. But between the Irish, and the Italians, and the French Canadians, and various immigrant groups in New England it’s a Catholic region more than anything else. As you’ve come to the South of course I said you’ve got Baptists as kind of the Hertz to the Methodist Avis and between them, they account for probably, I don’t know, two-thirds of the population something like that. And that’s how you define the South of course. Around the edges in South Florida and Texas, South Texas you have Roman Catholics, but much of the South until recently you haven’t had any at all. It was not unusual to go into town with no known non-Protestants. As I say, that may be changing. You got to the inner to Utah and Idaho of course that’s Mormon domain. It shows up on the map quite conspicuously. Northern plain states you have Lutherans that….likes to talk about. You’ve got a Midwest that’s kind of a mixture probably, Methodist the largest group. You go across to the upper Midwest, not the upper Midwest but Ohio, Indiana, that area. The West coast is something else. Southern California again part of greater Mexico in some ways at least religiously. Get up to Oregon and Northern California, and you got sort of a new burnt over district with all sorts of strange religious phenomenon going on. You know you drive five hundred miles in this country, and things change religiously.

Mohler: Yes and you pointed out and we’ll get to this in more detail later, but you pointed out that they not only change as you describe religiously, they change in other ways. There are certain folk ways, certain language, certain forms of humor, certain forms of food preferences that change along with those same miles.

Reed: Yeah, lately I started writing a lot about food because everyone likes to read about food. I like to write about it besides it gives me some interesting tax deductions. But now I say you drive five hundred miles and religion changes. You drive one hundred miles the barbeque changes that’s a very complex map if you start mapping you know sauces, cuts of meat, and side dishes. But food, yes, speech obviously, there’s still a recognizable couple of recognizable southern accents there’s never been a single one. There’s been an upcountry accent that you hear from Andy Griffith and a low country accent that you hear from Strom Thurman basically. And there are minor variations within that. I mean you can tell a Charlestonian or New Orleanian from other people in South Carolina or Louisiana. But speech, religion, food, what else? Violence we have different patterns of crime in the South. Funeral practices, I’ve got a map that this is true ten years ago that may have changed a bit at that point 2% of the funerals in Mississippi involved cremation. Two-thirds of the funerals in Nevada did. Mississippi and Nevada kind of on opposite ends of the good…continuum. But that’s one there cremation. Anyway this region doesn’t make a difference in talking about funeral practices that’s for sure.

Mohler: Now, when you think about the regions clearly you have spent most of your scholarly life devoting attention to the American South. How would you describe the distinctiveness of the American South and why does it have, you might say in terms of modern academia, it now has a rather established place. Southern studies has become something that has a certain cache in the…What’s going on there?

Reed: Well, yeah the South is certainly the oldest and the most…of the American regions it’s the only one that went to war about it. Some of the most conspicuous. I think the other regions are certainly worth writing about I just don’t know them as well. And, I wanted to talk about the South I’ll let someone else talk about the Great Plains of the Pacific Northwest. And they are incidentally they’re the center for Great Plains studies that the University of Nebraska I think it is, the Center for New England Studies. There are various insight regional encyclopedias like the model of the encyclopedia of Southern culture that came out a while back. The South you know certainly wins the self-consciousness stakes and always has. But there are reasons for that. I think it has been the most distinctive of the American regions. You’re right about the cache at least popular enthusiasm for southern studies. I’m not, there are stories about universities that aren’t interested in it anymore and I think should be. I see it as provincial and not worthy of their attention. But certainly my own university in North Carolina has a long history of regional studies and it’s a tradition I’m happy to be part of. What else can I tell you?

Mohler: Well, you know, I was thinking of this the other day because just looking at the world as we know it in different societies they all have their stories, their own folkways, you pointed out their own ways of eating, their own mechanisms of humor. I was reading the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist and man of letters in describing Canada and I mean this as no insult. I’m quoting Robertson Davies himself, he said, “imagine being a novelist in a land with no mythology.” You know and he said Canadians, we just don’t have a myth. There’s no great national cause, and he said you know every region of the United States seems to have its own myth, and we don’t have one at all.

Reed: Yeah, I think you know Canadians take a certain pride in being undistinctive (laughter) unexciting, that’s kind of what it is. There’s a great quotation that I’m failing to remember right now but Robbie Robertson, who was a Canadian musician, played with the band said, talking about the South, said the great thing about the South is that everyone knows how to clap on the off beat. Coming from Canada this was a revelation to him that you could run into people that actually understood. But hang on a second, I’m pulling books off the shelf as we speak. Yes, let me read from, every human group likes to believe itself unusual but not all aspire to be thought fascinating. I think only Canadians who through a sort of cultural….have come to be perceived and even perceive themselves as extraordinarily ordinary. Canada tourism minister Thomas McMillian got it just about right when he told the Wall Street Journal that we’re seen as a country of great national beauty, fresh air and fish, but not as a place to boogie. That’s Canada.

Mohler: Well, I have to tell you I delight in hearing you read that. But I’m absolutely perplexed by a man who can just reach in the middle of an interview and grab a book and read such an appropriate citation.

Reed: Well, Al it happens to be the first lines of one of my books right on the shelf in front of me.

Mohler: That works.

Reed: If it was in the middle of the book, I would have had a bit more trouble.

Mohler: Well, about the South you wrote something years ago, and I marked this in my text where you said Southernness as we have known it is almost over. I found that a very interesting way to put it. When you say almost over it’s a temporal reference. What’s going on there?

Reed: Well, if you ask what it means to be Southern, you’ve got a very different answer now from what you had a hundred years ago. In 1911 you ask that and what you got was to be Southern means to stand in some kind of relation to the confederacy and of Dixie, salute the confederate flag, honor the heroes of the confederacy. Not necessarily to be, not usually to be…anymore but simply to venerate, honor the lost cause. I don’t think it means that anymore. It certainly doesn’t mean that to a great many people who consider themselves Southerners. Black Southerners for starters I mean obviously the confederacy is not their cause. There’s been an attempt recently sort of retroactively to enlist a good many black folks in the confederate army involves a certain re-writing of history. There were black confederate soldiers but they were certainly rare. Anyhow, it doesn’t mean that to black folks who increasingly refer to themselves as Southerners in title.

Mohler: Well, that is a great point I wanted to ask you here. To what extent is the black Southern culture and the white Southern culture one culture and to what extent are they separate cultures?

Reed: Well, it depends on your point of reference. I mean they have a great deal in common over against the culture of the Northeasteast. Talking about religious cultures, you’re talking about commonalities and things we were just talking about, speech, diet, and humor, music. Certainly, similarities there not to say there aren’t differences. And if you’re on the ground in the South historically the differences have been what strike you. From outside the South it’s a different story there are lots of accounts of black and white Southerners meeting one another outside the South and sort of embracing one another as long lost brethren. I had that experience in New York in grad school a couple of young men from South Carolina, and I ran into them we just had this commonality. We understood each other’s jokes to be jokes. We like the same music and pretty much the same food. Although I’m Episcopalian, we all knew the same Baptist hymns.

Mohler: Well, I do think there’s something even in the scholarly world there’s something in terms of Southern studies of a new recognition that it is perhaps better seen as one culture with many different dimensions rather than separate culture.

Reed: Yeah, again you can be a lumper or you can be a splitter. The encyclopedia of Southern culture that I mentioned came out, what, it’s been twenty years now, I guess, and it notice it’s singular against encyclopedias of Southern culture and it treats black and white together. I have found it and was co-editor for a while a journal called Southern Cultures note they’re plural. I personally wanted to call it Southern Culture, but I thought that battle with my co-editor and press and I lost it and actually I’m kind of glad I did looking back because it gave the journal the freedom to publish articles that otherwise might not have fit. I mean black….in South Carolina for example. You can put that in Southern cultures but it’s a journal called Southern Culture you might need a lot of explaining. I do think there is this recognition there were people saying it. J.W. Cash said it in 1940 that black and white Southerners had a great deal in common no one wanted to acknowledge in 1940. But people are more comfortable with that now.

Mohler: Talking with John Shelton Reed we’re reminded that regionalism really does matter. It may matter less now than it did in the past because we have communication. We have nationwide entertainment. We have all the things that are making a mono culture out of the rich variety of what had been the regions and regional cultures of the United States. But region persists and we as Christians have an understanding of why we’re deeply embedded in a culture, we’re deeply embedded in geography. We’re deeply embedded in a web of human relationships and where we are in the question of whom we relate it has a great deal to do with what we think is funny, what we think is tasty, maybe even what we think about many other larger issues as well.

John Shelton Reed began as a sociologist and historian and man of letters known for his work in Southern culture and Southern cultures. He has become also a writer about food and to talk to him is to come to know that he’s something of a polymath pulling all these things together. Dr. Reed let me ask you why is it that when you find Baptists you’re likely to find barbeque? How did that happen?

Reed: Well, I think you find a great concentration of both in the South. I don’t think there’s a cause and effect relationship there. I mean if you go to Northern Kentucky, you find Roman Catholics doing barbeque for parish suppers and that sort of thing. But certainly barbeque has been in the last couple of centuries been a Southern thing. My wife and I wrote a book called Holy Smoke about barbeque and just sort of culinary religion. And we discovered to our surprise that in the 17th century and early part of the 18th century there were barbeques in New England but kind of waned there, I guess they started having clam bakes instead. That was the great community.

Mohler: One of the reasons I asked the question is because reading recently about the history of food I’ve come across some things that I really did not know before that I found really informative. The fact that for instance the reason that the French developed so many creams and gravies was because the reality was that much of the meat was rancid. And just in order to cover the rancidness of the meat they came up with all these sauces, now the French are famous for the sauces and even when they have fresh meat. And the barbeque, as we know it now and call it now, was especially located in the American South because of much the same reason and indeed slaves often received the worst cuts of meat and had to do something with it. And with sheer brilliance and innovation you had impoverished people in the South who, and that means both whites and African Americans, who came up with barbeque and turned it into a celebration.

Reed: Yeah actually they got the technique from the Indians who were doing it when they got here. Although they didn’t have pigs to do it with but the technique of slow cooking. Every culture has something similar. I mean people discovered early on you can read about it in Homer or the Bible that if you’ve got a tough cut of meat you can cook it for a long time at a low temperature and it turns into something sublime. Forget the sauce, the sauce comes along and sometimes the sauce will cover up a slightly off taste. But what the technique is for is for tough cuts of meat like spare ribs or shoulders or the classic barbeque cuts that you know folks who were eating the tenderloins didn’t want. People eating high on the hog were not barbequing. They were doing hams and things. But the folks that got what was left over, you’re quite right were learning to cook it low and slow because it was better that way.

Mohler: Let me ask you about Southern literature and that’s a jump somewhat from where we were except the culture is more or less all of a piece as you treat in your writings. But why is it that so much of Southern literature has been so dark? The word used in literature is gothic. How did this happen? Flannery O’Connor and the grotesque you know, why the South?

Reed: Yeah, I wish I could tell you this has been something that English professors have written about endlessly and I can’t pretend to have read even most of what they have written about it. But you know we’ve had a society here that has had its share of trial, and tragedy, and disappointment, and frustration. And blacks and whites both in different respect have. Well, C. Vann Woodward said this memorably, great Southern historian talked about the burden of Southern history. And he was talking about white folks but plainly the same thing applies to black ones that at the time he was writing it at least virtually alone among Americans he said, among white Americans, Southerners had experienced defeat. They had experienced poverty. They had experienced things not getting better in fact getting worse. They worked hard, and nothing had come of it. And you know this is not the classic American experience. He’s not talking about writers, but you know, I think that applies…to writers they’re the canaries in the coal mine. If ordinary people are feeling this, writers are going to feel it even more so and express it. Does that answer your question?

Mohler: Well, you know and I think it’s a part of it. I think certainly the fact that the South did experience that kind of defeat and with reconstruction worse in terms of the experience of most families than the war and with a very difficult sense of sectional inferiority at least economically and politically speaking over against the North and the expanding Midwest. And, one of the reasons why I think it’s important even as a theologian to think through some of these issues is because even now how we think of ministering to and relating to these different regions requires a bit of skill and the understanding of history.

Reed: I think you’re right, but that’s your department. And you know that said black Southerners of course have had their own experience of frustration and failure and not being able to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish because of exterior constraints that they were simply powerless to overcome perhaps even more than white ones. It’s been a commonality, not the same frustrations but frustration in an un-American kind of way. Now, that said Woodward was writing that in the 1950’s and you know, since then Americans lost a war. He said you know Americans hadn’t loss a war unless they were Southerners. Well, that was true when he wrote. And we have had some frustrations on the economic front. But you mentioned something interesting there when you talked about grievance because that has been part of what white Southern identity has been all about. A sense that you were economically in a vassal of the metropolitan economy. Politically, you were down and out kept out of the power. They’d let you people be vice president but that’s it. Those two grievances have pretty much faded. You know economically the South over the last thirty years has done better than the rest of the country. Certainly improved faster still not quite at parody per capita income but things have been coming along quite nicely. Politically you know these days people have started to argue you can’t, the democrats certainly if they’re going to win, the presidency the last election has proved this, but that they run a lot stronger if they’ve got a Southern candidate that’s the case with Carter and Clinton.

Mohler: Ever since Lyndon Baines Johnson as a matter of fact. If indeed you’re going to count Texas as a part of the South that’s just a different question.

Reed: That’s right. I do, but we can talk about that. But the grievance that persists and that people voice spontaneously, these days is an old one. It’s basically says other Americans look down on Southerners. They think we’re hicks or rednecks or either comic hillbillies or vicious brutes. You look at how the South is portrayed on television people how it’s portrayed in the movies. This may be changing it may be changing but you run into it often enough as a Southerner. Southerners will know what I’m talking about.

Mohler: Indeed, they will. You know another question that comes to mind thinking about the meaning of the South today has to do with this innovation of the Sunbelt. To what extent is the Sunbelt the South, and to what extent is it not?

Reed: Yeah. That phrase came along in the 1970’s about the same time as Jimmy Carter. And there was a brief shining moment there when I think this very bad idea had currency. I don’t hear the Sunbelt much anymore but there was a stretch there when Kirkpatrick…..for example was writing about the South and West. Basically, what he called the Southern Rim, rimster cowboys was the type that were going to take over from the people who had previously been running and had continue to run the country up from the Northeasteast metropolitan areas of the north and West. But the Sunbelt, you know any, it’s certainly true that if you look at where economic development was taken place, it was not in Cleveland or Detroit. It was in Atlanta and Charlotte, and Albuquerque, and Phoenix, and San Diego, but aside from that you know any regionalization that puts San Diego and Jackson, Mississippi in the same region is simply making a big mistake.

Mohler: Let’s just think about the South for a moment. Let me mention one thing that I picked up on in terms of international media, and it pointed out that one of the least expected developments if you were to rewind history even back to the 1940’s maybe even after that but to be able to look straight into the reality, and say not only recently but now for many years the busiest airport in the world is in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reed: Isn’t that astonishing? Yes, and another thing that Atlanta’s done, I get a lot of, I have a lot of fun knocking Atlanta. They get so defensive about it. It’s very hard to resist saying mean things just so they spring to a defense. You know Atlanta has showed us the way in race relations too. I was reading an in-flight magazine on an airplane some years ago and an African American minister from Boston was being quoted. He said, why should Atlanta be the only model city for black people in the United States? And I thought my goodness, here’s a New Englander and a black one who is holding up the capitol of Georgia as a model for race relations. How astonishing is this?

Mohler: I remember by the way when you were doing color commentary on the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I was listening to a live broadcast professor, and I remember you telling I think it was Neal Conan of NPR that when you looked out, in fact he asked you, when you look out at all this magnificence of Atlanta isn’t this making your Southern heart proud. And, you said something like no this is what many generations of Southerners have tried to prevent.

Reed: I said, it’s what a quarter of a million confederate soldiers died to prevent. That’s one of the most quoted things I’ve ever said, and it’s unkind. It doesn’t give Atlanta credit for the many things Atlanta…

Mohler: No, but it does point out the counter-intuitive nature of history. And again, I’m a Christian theologian looking at this thinking that God has a sense of humor as well as a sense of justice in how he works through history. And just as you mentioned the quotation from the pastor in the Northeasteast, you look at Atlanta now, and you realize this isn’t the story that Southerners thought they were going to tell.

Reed: No, it’s not at all. And it’s remarkable, people say incidentally get back to what we started with, people say you know Atlanta’s not Southern. And I say, well yes it is actually, I mean it’s what the South looks like when it’s metropolitan and modern and relatively wealthy. It’s very Southern compare it to Denver say and you’ll see for starters I mean the large black population of Atlanta is very Southern. True a lot of the white people came from Indiana you know and they’re not Southern although their children may be, but Atlanta is a Southern city, It’s just Southern in a different way from what we’re used to.

Mohler: Well, back to the food theme for just a moment. I was talking to someone a couple of years ago, and we decided that the great dividing line in America came down to this. If you have a raw piece of chicken, what’s your first inclination to do with it?

Reed: Fry it or stew it.

Mohler: That’s about it. Grill it or fry it. Or do something.

Reed; Yeah.

Mohler: And that’s still going to make a difference in Atlanta.

Reed: I thought you were going to say something about sweet tea. That’s a popular notion too. You start getting sweet ice tea you know you’re in the South. Although you don’t get it everywhere in the South. That’s another story.

Mohler: Well, Professor Reed let me ask you one final question when you look to the South as a region and you look to the future, what do you see coming?

Reed: You know I hesitate to get in the prediction business because I’ve been at this so long now I keep….people, smart people who were absolutely wrong. Rupert Vance for example one of the smartest sociologists to write about the South as late as 1960 simply assumed that black folks were going to continue to leave the South and eventually the South would be 12%, population would be 12% black like everybody else. But that hasn’t happened. There’s been a turnaround black folks now coming to the south. The black population percentage of the South is increasing. Nobody predicted that, nobody saw that coming, not even the smartest people around. But if you force me to answer, I would say that the South is going to be urban, it already is, it’s going to be prosperous, it’s going to be part of the world economy in interesting ways. People talking to these days about the global South and the South’s connection with Asian and Latin America talking about that in ways they haven’t talked about since the 1850’s. The South is going to be no longer bi-racial. I mean that’s been the big feature of our demography this many years. A large black minority and a white majority, but all of a sudden we’re getting a lot of brown folks, Asian ones, and you know that’s one of the astonishing things to me go to a little town like Spruce Pine, North Carolina where they’ve got a Christmas tree farm and all the people working the Christmas trees are Hispanic their little tiendes there, little mountain town in North Carolina. You go to outer city North Carolina where there’s a chicken processing plant, speaking of chickens, and walk down the street at high noon on a summer day, and you’ll be in a border town. Most of the people you run into on the street are Mexican descent. These are momentous changes. And one of the interesting things that people study in the South is what is happening to these immigrants. The Hispanics we’ve got in North Carolina are already different from the Hispanics in California. There are regional differences among Hispanics in the United States in many ways resemble the differences among whites and blacks. So there’s plenty left to study it’s going to outlast me that’s for sure.

Mohler: Well, I’m going to watch and see how you interpret these things in years to come Professor Reed. Thank you for joining me today.

Reed: Thanks for talking with me.

Mohler: It’s one thing to note the differences of regions and regional cultures. It’s a second order issue to determine whether these differences are important and what these differences might mean. For those of us who are engaged in ministry knowing that ministry is related to culture the way that human beings are related to other human beings, it’s a reminder that we actually do have to pay attention to these things. IfF we want to talk to people, if we want to be understood by people, if we want to understand them, well it turns out that regionalism isn’t all that it used to be, but it still is important.

It’s always good to have a conversation with someone who’s so naturally conversational as Professor John Shelton Reed. And there is no way to have a conversation with Professor Reed without understanding and detecting quite clearly that he is a Southerner. And one who is not only from the South but loves his region. He’s not uncritical. Indeed, he’s critical about his region, but he speaks of it with a level of infinity and with a deepness of devotion that tells us that he understands he is not there by accident. From a Christian perspective, it’s important for us to recognize that our place is important to us. It is a part of our identity. Every single one of us as we know our story is to use the only language accessible to us we’re from somewhere. We have a story, and that story is embedded in a place. Human beings as we do create community and, as we gather ourselves in cities, villages, towns, states, and regions do indeed bring all of our particularities. And it matters from which we’ve come. The historian David Hackett Fisher for instance points out that the United States of America did not emerge even in its colonial era from just one British migration but from several. Each of them bringing not only a different group of people but a different cultural set of assumptions, and tastes, and practices. From different parts of Great Britain. Well, now you expand it we’re not only talking about a story of the English coming to America but, we’re talking about various other groups in times past and very much in the present. When Dr. Reed walked us through different parts of the United States of America, we understand it really doesn’t make a difference. We understand that New England is not the same thing as the Southwest. We understand that the bread basket there in the very center of the country in terms of the Midwest, the Great Lakes Region, we understand that it is not just like the South. We understand that humanity is diverse not only in the national geographic way that the 19th century tried to discover it in terms of exotic persons far beyond our reach but rather, we’re strange enough just right here at home.

So what does region tell us? Well, it tells us that different groups have a different story. And even as we share the same human story, and even as to all persons we share the same story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, we come with different sets of cultural assumptions. And it really bleeds into our church life as well. There is a difference in the way the Midwestern Lutherans understand certain ways of doing church as over against those who are in the South even of the same denomination. There are reasons why Baptist do outnumber others. and Baptists and Methodists together in terms of a large part of the United States and why on the other hand Rhode Island is now the most Roman Catholic country, or state in the country whereas in the founding era that would have been Maryland. We have different patterns and of course when you get to the Northwest and the West coast and the Southwest and to the Western plain states things are different. Ministry is different in these places. Now it doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually different it’s not theologically different, but it is contextually different. And that does make a decisive difference in terms of for instance the way certain things are done. Or for that matter not done. The kind of language, the kind of social etiquette, the kinds of local knowledge that become necessary. I thought one of the most interesting aspects of this conversation is where John Shelton Reed pointed out that in the history of the world there has been only one region where low church Protestants have formed the majority. Until he said it, I really had not conceived of the reality in that way, and that is the American South. You cannot explain the American South as it is. You cannot explain the American South as it was without reference to the fact that it is low church Protestants who formed the majority. Not just a substantial representation, but the majority within the culture. Compare that to indeed the Anglican reality not only of England but of Virginia and the Colonial era. Compare that to the congregational reality of Puritan New England. Compare that to the Catholic reality of various immigrant communities. Compare that to the mainstream Protestant reality of a city like Chicago even before its ethnic invasion. But what you have is a different story in the American South. For that reason the South has always been marked by certain patterns of not only life and language but even of theological debate. Years ago one Southern historian sought to explain the Southern means of discourse by explaining it as the Southern rage to explain. Southerners as it turns out have a particular pattern of argument whereby they will explain, and explain, and explain. Well maybe, and indeed I say this as a Southerner, because we have a lot to explain and a lot to answer for. That’s probably true for every region. But it’s important theologically that every culture, every civilization, indeed every community, and yes every region come to terms with its history in order to understand the providence of God not only in the past but in the demands of the present. I always enjoy hearing from and talking to John Shelton Reed. I always find it an invigorating and fascinating conversation. And, I’m always reminded of the fact that it really does matter who we are and where we were born. Or as every Southern grandmother would say you got to know where you come from. That doesn’t mean that establishes who you are, but it is an important part of the story. And it’s a part of what it means to be humans to be embedded in a certain space, in a certain time, and as we know as Christians that means by the sovereignty of God for a certain reason.

Thanks for listening to Thinking In Public. I want to remind you of an important conference coming up on our campus on Friday and Saturday March 18 and 19 Southern Seminary is going to host the Give Me An Answer student conference this one for high school students. This year’s conference’s themed Important. I’ll tell you why it’s important because Russell Moore and J.D. Greear are going to join me as we challenge students to live a life of importance for Christ by humbly following God’s will. For more information visit Also, I want to remind you that Mary and I are going to be taking a cruise to Alaska with several of our friends. We hope you will be among them. We’re going to be going up to Alaska for a cruise of fellowship and serious bible study. It’s going to be a really, really enriching experience July 30-August 6 of this year. For more information go to, hit the events button, and you’ll find it listed. Until next time keep thinking. I’m Albert Mohler.