How a passionate woman made peace with the Bible Belt: Give Peace a Chance

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Good morning!  This is the next installment in our series, "Give Peace a Chance."  Dana is an evangelical pastor's wife in the Bible Belt.  I asked her to share how she has found peace within the church specifically because Dana does not fit that stereotype.  She is passionate, full of big thoughts and wild dreams.  If Dana is on your side, you're going to be just fine.  You can read more from Dana at MoJoy blog.  You can also follow her on Facebook or through email.

I am not Southern.

This sign is posted in the Alabama town where I grew up
I live in Georgia, spent sixteen years in Florida and grew up in Tennessee, but geography doesn't make one Southern.  It's only in the past few years that my eyes have been opened to the reality of church culture in the Bible Belt.  On the short road where my congregation meets, there are six other churches. This is typical of the region.  There is a church for every kind of opinion, and because there are so many choices, it's easy to hole up with a group of entirely like-minded people and convince one another of your rightness.  There is no need to tolerate differing opinions when you can just go to the church down the road.  About my own church family, I have heard everything from "I hear ya'll don't wear ties in the pulpit," (not true - we don't have a pulpit) to "I hear ya'll don't preach the Bible or believe in the Old Testament" (also not true).

It's not merely between churches that the rifts exist.  Turmoil lives inside congregations as well.  Any song, change in order, choice of footwear by a pastor, or cheering after a baptism is enough to stir the pot.  If one's husband happens to be a pastor, well, it can be hard to find a moment's peace.

I have fought to be at peace - fought, failed, and fought again - in my ten years as a pastor's wife.  Only in the past few years have I finally found a solid place to find it.  Peace is among God's people - not a congregation or a belief system, but among individual, living, feeling, thinking people.  I've walked away from bandwagons, boycotts, and causes, because it's too easy to lump people together under those labels.  When I do, I cease to see their unique worth.  Even the most difficult person is harder to dismiss when they are out from the umbrella of "that problem" or "one of those people."

I believe in a Savior who looked the most miserable people in the eye and saw who they really are.  He saw their inherent value, no matter what their station in life was.  This is where I have made my peace.  I don't need to agree, to defend, or even to be heard in most points of contention.  But I do need to see and value each person involved.

The church isn't as different from the world as I would hope, or as we pretend to be.  Every church is made up of real, complex people, every single one.  We bring our baggage, our expectations, and our cultural biases with us.  We feel the same needs as everyone else - the need to be first, the need to be heard, the need to have rules and boundaries.  Jesus turned all of that on its ear two thousand years ago, but the church still works to embrace His concepts.  We are still replacing our needs with His ideas of inclusive grace, unmerited mercy, and limitless love.

I don't know any church of person that embodies this perfectly.  I know I don't.  But when I focus on Jesus' ideals, I find I am less at odds with the church and the world.  It's not the absence or presence of any circumstance that brings me peace.  It's the realization that God has made peace with a hard-headed, hot-blooded, loud-mouthed person like me.  Because of His great love, I can pour peace into the world, and the church, around me.

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