What the Bible Belt Stereotypes Don't Tell You
"So have you found a church family yet?" She leaned in over her coffee, meeting my eyes across the dining room table. I paused for a split second, my expression puzzled.
"No," I answered, shaking my head and laughing nervously. "No church family yet. We're working on it though; we're getting close."
I looked down at my hands wrapped around my warm mug, at the half-eaten blueberry muffin on my plate. Then, desperate to change the subject, I asked my new friend which brand of baby bottle she preferred for her newborn.
The truth was, I hadn't understood her question. I hadn't any idea what a "church family" was; I'd never heard the phrase before. At the time it crossed my mind that "church family" might be a euphemism for "cult." "Great," I thought to myself, as my friend debated the pros and cons of Avent versus Gerber bottles. "I moved to a state where I'm supposed to join a cult. That's just perfect."
Such conversational awkwardness was typical in the weeks and months after my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Nebraska. More than a year after we'd settled into our new home, I stopped to chat with another neighbor, a stay-at-home mom who lived three doors down. I found myself telling her about my husband's brother, who had recently been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and as I took a deep breath, struggling to blink back tears, my neighbor asked if she could pray for my family.
Her request, though genuine and kind, startled me and left me stuttering a stilted response. Never in my life had anyone asked outright to pray for me. This woman and I were near-strangers; we'd exchanged just a handful of greetings on the sidewalk in the months since we'd first met. What was next? I fretted. Would she ask me if I've accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior?
A native New Englander, I knew very little about the Midwest before my husband and I moved to Nebraska in 2001. Vague images of corn, combines, locust plagues, fanatical football fans, bad weather, and "Bible bangers" comprised the extent of my knowledge. I considered Nebraska part of the Bible belt, and that fact did not sit well with me. As far as I was concerned, those two words, "Bible belt," were synonymous with close-minded, preachy, judgmental religious people. Proselytizers, apocalyptics, and snake charmers rounded out the picture. I wasn't just leery of moving to the Bible belt; I was downright afraid.
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