How the Scopes trial created the “Bible Belt”

Ninety years ago today, the Scopes trial came to an end with the conviction of John Scopes for teaching human evolution in the public schools. The Scopes trial is a watershed moment in the history of American religion—critics of evolution won the trial but lost credibility among the public (or so the story goes).

The trial was also the beginning of a new concept: The Bible Belt.

The region now known as the Bible Belt had its start with the missionary movements by Baptists and Methodists in the 1800s. As many Protestant denominations moved in a modernist direction in the late 1800s, churches in the southern states and parts of the midwest remained skeptical of scientific advances, liberal theology, and church hierarchies.

Well, actually the Baptist movement and History in the South goes back much further than the 1800’s.
baptisthistory.org/sbaptistbeginnings.htm

My family has been in South Carolina since the early 1700’s. And the two brothers brought their Baptist Faith with them from Wales. There was already a Baptist presence in Charleston and coastal S.C. where they settled. And the traditions of the Protestant peoples were much more given to being conservative than their northern contemporaries. This was heightened after the Civil War.

Does anyone know what the graph at the top of the article represents? The Y-axis is labeled only in percentages, but there is no explanation as to percent of what.

Yeah, and Methodism goes back to the 1st Great Awakening.

The split between northern and southern Churches during the US Civil war had as much to do with the idea of a Bible belt as did the Scopes trial.

The more liberal Northern anti-slavery Presbyterian Church USA split from the very conservative Southern Presbyterian Church of America. The same is true of the Baptists/Southern Baptists and other Churches.

The Southern Churches embraced a more literalist approach to scripture as the OT laws concerning slavery and the discussion of Ones’imus in Paul’s letter to Philemon supported their desire to continue slavery. This is where fundamentalism took root and is now what we know as the Bible belt.

-Tim-

I was thinking the same thing.

And it is 1/100,000 of one percent. :confused: What are the measuring that could be that small?

It would be a mistake to call the Northern Presbyterian Church in the 1850s “liberal.” They were not “more liberal” only “more activist.” The divide actually stems from a religious divide in the Presbyterian Church known as the Old School-New School Controversy. The Old School thought that the Church should stay out of political questions not specifically addressed in God’s Word, whereas the more evangelical New School was very much associated with abolitionism.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA was actually always officially moderately abolitionist. In 1795, the General Assembly ruled that slaveholding was not grounds for excommunication but also expressed support for the eventual abolition of slavery. It also called slavery “a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with the law of God.”

Once the Church split between Old School and New School, Southern Presbyterians overwhelming sided with the Old School.

I don’t think so. During the Civil War era, both Northern and Southern churches were broadly evangelical. This evangelicalism was expressed in different ways in North and South. Northerners took the Bible just as literally as Southerners–they just read it as being opposed to slavery rather than justifying it. For example, Paul calls slavetrading a sin in 1 Timothy 1:10.

Fundamentalism was a reaction to the rise of liberal theology in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Dispensationalism, for example, was seen as an innovation by Northern “liberal” Presbyterians as much as by Southern “conservative” Presbyterians.

If you look at the history of Fundamentalism, what you will find is that much of the leadership and original institutions were actually started in the North by Northern Baptists and Presbyterians. Because of the Southern churches on the whole were somewhat more conservative, it actually meant that there was more urgency to fight back against modernism in the North.

Yes, Methodist circuit riders traversed the South. Those were some brave, dedicated Preachers.

The article is extremely simplistic and historically inaccurate.
The historic nature of the “Bible belt” is grounded on many roots. If you want to look to a “beginning”, it dates back to the post-Civil War era. A defeated people who turn to religion to offset the surrounding culture the North represented What would later be called the fundamentalist movement began in the early part of the 20th century as a reaction against the growing liberalism in mainline denominations. The early fundamentalist conferences included almost every Protestant denomination. This was long before the Scopes trial. The Scopes trial however did put fundamentalism on the map.
So the Scopes trial did not “create” the Bible Belt, it simply brought it to national attention.

I wish we’d really start taking editors to the woodshed for every instance of headline-does-not-agree-with-body.

The region now known as the Bible Belt had its start with the missionary movements by Baptists and Methodists in the 1800s. As many Protestant denominations moved in a modernist direction in the late 1800s, churches in the southern states and parts of the midwest remained skeptical of scientific advances, liberal theology, and church hierarchies.

In other words: The headline has cause-effect completely backwards.

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