Living in the Bible Belt, I live in a culture that is highly identifiable with Christianity. At times it seems there is a church for every household in the county in which I live. Most restaurants will play Christian music on Sundays and many business have a “God Bless You” or “God Loves You” sign hanging in front of their store. In one sense, this is a blessing. I was able to grow up in an environment where the Bible is believed as infallible truth and the gospel was readily preached. There were countless opportunities for me to come to Christ by living in Southeast Kentucky. In another sense however, living in the Bible Belt is a curse. Nominal Christianity is rampant and following Jesus has become a part of our culture. It is similar and not much more than being Republican. It is just who you are. Countless people in this region want identification with Jesus, but do not want total surrender and obedience to Jesus. Sadly, being “Christian” is synonymous with being Republican, liking sweet tea, “whippin’ yur yungins”, hunting, fishing, and being a die-hard UK basketball fan. It is just who you are. The Bible Belt is like Mayberry–everyone is Christian and even the drunk Otis Campbell regularly attends prayer meetin’.
This reality makes it extremely difficult to do evangelism in the Bible Belt. Everyone is a “Christian” here at least in the nominal adherence sense. Therefore, when you talk with someone who just claims to be a Christian without obeying Christ about following Jesus, they get extremely offended that you would dare think them to be a non-believer. Christianity in the Bible Belt is often an evil and stark form of legalism.
I found some identification with this in a recent blog post from Pray for the Hui. The people group that is the focus of Secret Church 2013 is the Chinese Hui. They are a Muslim people group that consists of about 13 million people. Much like the Bible Belt in America, the Hui people group are highly identifiable with their religion. As this blog post informs us, “To be Hui is to be Muslim”. In fact, the only thing that distinguishes these people from the rest of their fellow countrymen is their Islamic faith.
For this reason, you could sit and talk with a nice Hui man all afternoon. You can tell him all about Jesus, why He came and why we need Him, and he might even agree with you! But at the end of the conversation when you ask him if he wants to believe in Him, he says, “Of course not! I’m Hui! But you should go tell other people about this because they really need to know.”
Because being Hui and being Muslim are tied so closely together, imagine what happens when one of them does believe. No one knows who he is anymore, his family, friends and community quite possibly reject him… and at the very least they feel rejected and now see the new believer as a traitor.
I wonder if Kentuckians, Tennesseans, Alabamians, etc. would sacrifice their southern culture in order to follow Jesus if they found out that their nominal adherence was not submission to the will of God in Christ–which is the essence of salvation. I fear that Matthew 7:21-23 will be the reality of many in the region in which I live and love. Would we follow Jesus if he called us away from our families or if we must disagree with and stand in opposition to non-believing family members? Would we choose our Jesus over our families? Or would we be like the Hui? Thinking this Jesus sounds impressive and this gospel a great message, but wanting no part of him if he doesn’t jive with our culture or family. I pray that the Bible belt would return to a radical dependence on and obedience to the God of the Bible and that this region would be purged of nominal Christianity and legalism.
In the meantime, I will be praying diligently to the God who softens hardened hearts and gives life to those who are dead and under sin (Eph. 2:5; Rom. 3:9). Pray for the Hui. Pray that God would break through the hardness of their hearts to regenerate them to enable them to believe in Jesus for their justification, sanctification, glorification. Considering the die-hard commitment of this people group to the tradition of their Islamic faith, the miracle of regeneration will be magnified. In many ways the Hui and the Bible belt nominal Christians are a lot alike. Hearts are hard. Families are tight. Culture is king. And “Jesus” fits in all of these in one way or another for southerners. And Jesus is rejected by the Hui since he can’t fit in with Islam.
Here are some recommendations for praying for the Hui that can also be applied to prayer for Bible belt nominal Christians:
In many areas of China, Hui are connected through clan relationships. Pray that not only individuals but also whole families come to faith in Jesus. Pray for cultural sensitivity, awareness and respect among believers as we interact with new believers from among the Hui.