Travelers who frequent the winding mountain roads of Southern Appalachia know that, every few miles, they’re going to pass yet another small Baptist church sitting close to some rushing water.
It’s all about location, location, location.
Why would a preacher want to baptize a new believer in a heated, indoor tank when he can dunk them in the powerful, living, frigid waters of the river that created the valley in which his flock has lived for generations? There’s no question which option the self-proclaimed Primitive Baptists will choose, even if it adds an element of risk.
“Among Primitive Baptists, you almost always see two ministers when they baptize someone — one to do the baptism and one to hold on. It’s even become part of their unique liturgical tradition to have two ministers there,” said Baptist historian Bill Leonard of the Wake Forest School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“As the saying goes, you could get baptized and go to heaven on the same day if there wasn’t somebody there to hang on so you didn’t wash away and drown.”
This is the kind of old-fashioned faith that Americans are used to seeing in paintings of frontier life or grainy black-and-white photographs from the days before interstate highways, shopping malls, satellite dishes and the Internet. Appalachian religion has played a dramatic role in American culture, helping shape our folk art, Scotch-Irish history, roots music and a host of other subjects.
The question, for Leonard and many other scholars, is whether the rich heritage of “mountain Christianity” will play much of a role in the nation’s future.
“Increasingly,” he said, “our modern forms of American religion and our mass media and culture are sucking the life out of one of our most distinctive regions.” Read the complete article here: Religion: Goodbye to that old mountain religion | The Republic.