In 2017 Gallup reported Mississippi had retained its spot as the most religious state in the U.S., with 59% of residents calling themselves “very religious” and another 29% “moderately religious.”
A Pew Research Center report published in 2015 counted 83% of adult Mississippians as Christian. That would approximate 1.9 million adults.
Making up most of the 83% were 79% associated with religious denominations; the other 4% were nondenominational Christians. The breakout by denomination showed 48% Baptist, 7% Methodist, 6% Pentecostal, 4% Catholic, 2% Presbyterian, 2% Church of Christ, less than 2% Episcopalian, less than 2% Lutheran, 1% Free Methodist and other Holiness Family Churches, and about 6% other denominations.
Pew reported 49% of adults attend religious services at least once a week. This suggests at least 1.1 million Christians attend church weekly in Mississippi.
They attend at least 4,465 Christian churches —the number may be significantly higher since all Missionary Baptist Churches are not enumerated. A Clarion-Ledger story in 2017 counted 2,132 churches in the Mississippi Baptist Convention, 987 United Methodist Churches, 364 Church of Christ congregations, at least 300 churches in the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi, 191 Pentecostal Churches, 122 parishes in the Jackson and Biloxi Dioceses of the Catholic Church, 89 Episcopal Churches, and 80 Seventh-day Adventist Churches. The article did not include Presbyterian Churches of which there are over 200.
That’s lots of Mississippians attending lots of Christian churches, all studying the same Scripture, all bound by the same New Testament commandments – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
All this makes Mississippi a truly Christian seeming state.
The same Pew report showed 44% of Mississippi adults considered themselves Republicans, 42% Democrats, and 14% leaned toward neither. Logically, that means the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats must be Christians, and should love each other.
Yet our politics belies that – the partisan voices hurling hate and vitriol and stirring up discord, the forces pitting Christian Republicans against Christian Democrats.
Surely those engaged in such unseemly politics cannot be among the faithful multitudes who are invested with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
Implausibly, we even see some who wear the mantle of religion serving as political hacks and using hateful and disingenuous rhetoric to divide Christians.
Strong faith should be a bulwark against such invective, for the faithful know “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation,” as Jesus said, “and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:22-28).
How do you tell whom to believe? The test is simple. The faithful (think Billy Graham) pull believers together and build hope. The pretenders divide and destroy.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness” – the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Living in the light of eternity changes your priorities” – Pastor Rick Warren.
Imagine the good works over one million Christian adults standing in the light, indivisible in love and peace, could perform in Mississippi.
Pray for leaders who will stand in the light to guide us.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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