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The Balkanization of Southern Christianity, Jackson TN

Published Sunday, Jun. 23rd, 2019

Ministers getting ordained in Jackson Tennessee

“I’ve looked high and low and I can’t find a place that teaches religion like they did back in Chicago,” AMM Minister Collet Johnson told us. At first, that sounds hard to believe. Jackson is in the “buckle of the Bible Belt.” 81 percent of the population identifies as “Christian,” and 75 percent attend church.


“It’s true,” Collet insisted. “I’ve lived here for two decades, and I haven’t found what I’m looking for.” 


She was fine worshiping at home, but when her daughter got engaged, Collet took matters into her own hands and got ordained with AMM to officiate the ceremony. “I wanted my daughters’ marriage to get started on the right foot,” she said.


Five years after that first wedding, Collet has been asked to officiate six more weddings for friends and neighbors. It’s also folks like Collet that Tennessee stripped of their rights with Public Chapter No. 415, which bars online-ordained ministers from officiating weddings. That's why AMM incorporated in the state of Tennessee, and why we're on the ground offering in-person ordiations because we stand behind our claim that AMM ordinations are valid to officiate weddings anywhere in the US. If that means flying across the country to ordain you, we'll do it!


AMM Ministers getting to know each other in Jackson, TN


The term Balkanization describes the ethnic and political fragmentation that followed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. It might be a stretch, but applied to southern Churches, a similar dynamic has defined southern Christianity for hundreds of years; folks breaking away from larger churches to form smaller churches that reflect their particular interpretation of the Bible.


Bear with me here, I’ll explain…


Drive through any Tennessee town, and you’ll see churches on pretty much every street. The state has more megachurches than any other in the country. That’s just the big players. There are also thousands of small- and medium-sized churches. 


Often times, these churches are informal gatherings of a few families that worship together. Whenever a larger church experiences a schism, smaller offshoots spread out and form. Taken as a whole, groups like these represent a significant percentage of the state’s worshippers. 


These same groups are disenfranchised by the new law, since they are informal and unregistered or unincorporated. Public Chapter No. 415 is nothing short of an attack on informal churches. The Tennessee legislature is telling these folks, “you aren’t good enough.” 


That’s right. Tennessee’s new marriage law even discriminates against Christians - in one of the most religious states in the country!


Ordination applications, training materials, and other minister manuals in preperation for in-person ordinations in Jackson, TN.


In Jackson Tennessee, we met with dozens of spiritual leaders, offering in-person ordination so that they could continue to serve their communities and practice their faith on their own terms. As we continue to tour the state, with Memphis scheduled for June 23, 2019, we expect to hear more such stories. 

These experiences remind us how important the separation of church and state is, and how important our mission is because, despite what Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Legislature say, how you practice your faith is your business, and nobody else’s!


If you live in Tennessee, make sure to let your elected officials know how you feel about the new marriage law, and help them understand how if denies your right to practice your faith as you see fit. Here's a link to find the contact information for your local representative.

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