This report by Holmes Rolston III (A.B., Davidson College; B.D., Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia; Ph.D., Edinburgh University), who is pastor of the Walnut Grove and High Point Presbyterian Churches near Bristol, Virginia, was prepared at the request of the editors ofCHRISTIANITY TODAY.
Mountains and religion go well together. “Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: and see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many” (Num. 13:17, 18). Do altitude and the beauty of the hills give highlanders a constant reminder of the Creator that those who dwell below have not? Perhaps it is easier with the Smokies on the horizon to sense the presence of him who once spoke at Mt. Sinai. Whatever the reason, faith has flourished in these mountains.
But of late, charges have arisen that religion in these mountains is as much a liability as an asset. “Hard-shell religion inspires faith, tends to oppose change,” commented a leading magazine recently featuring Appalachia. Harry M. Caudill says of the mountaineers: “They have retained a respectful reverence for the Holy Bible and for the Protestant cause but it is a reverence without scholarship, discipline, or leadership.” Others say denominational leaders are interested only in suburbia, in more people with more income, and are forgetting the hill folk in their hour of greatest need. At the same time, the national press has widely applauded United Presbyterian Church action preventing the closure of ten United Mine Workers hospitals. In his state-of-the-union message, President Johnson pledged a “special effort in the chronically depressed areas of Appalachia”; he has recently readied a $4 billion ...1
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