Yesterday, The Huffington Post ran an article on the Most and Least Catholic States in America. I was curious to see where my current and home state of Tennessee would rank. It turns out we fall dead last when it comes to percentage of Catholics when compared to other states. Massachusetts comes in first with 44,905 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people. By comparison, Tennessee has only 3504 Catholics per 100,000. Therefore, Catholics make up 3.5% of the population of Tennessee. However, according to the article, 52% of the state’s population consider themselves religious, making us the 7th most religious state in the Union.
Having lived most of my life in Tennessee, these numbers don’t surprise me and growing up in the Bible Belt is one of the reasons that I have never taken my faith for granted. Living in an environment that is often hostile to Catholicism has strengthened my belief. As a young person I was often challenged by those who misunderstood the Catholic faith to defend what I believed. Many of my friends and acquaintances belonged to Christian groups who felt obligated to “save” others, especially us Catholics whom they believed worshipped Mary and statues and went into closets to confess our sins to priests whom we referred to as Father, even though the Bible said not to.
There are many positive things about frequent encounters with Bible believing Christians who are determined to save your Catholic soul. First of all, if you are going to have any kind of productive conversation, you must know the Bible. With two Catholic convert parents, I grew up being part of the Catholic minority even in my family, but also grateful for my great-grandfather, a protestant minister who helped me learn lots about the Bible. Another thing that was obvious in those who wanted to win me to their brand of Christianity was the real concern they had for me that fed their zeal to lead me to what they believed to be true. When we talk about the New Evangelization, I think of the zeal of so many non-Catholic missionaries and know that we Catholics will need the same kind of energy if we are to be successful in bringing others to Christ. I also learned that when I took the time to develop a friendship with someone first, they would usually ask questions that allowed me to present what I believed as a Catholic and why. The best dialogues happen between friends.
There aren’t many of us Catholics down here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, but our community is alive, vibrant and growing. I hope we will keep seeking opportunities to become better formed in our faith and to share that faith with those around us.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy a previous post entitled, How Being Southern Made Me A Better Catholic.