WHEN I WAS A KID, my parents found Jesus, took to Him like otters to water, and left the more traditional churches of their upbringing to enlist as full-fledged evangelicals. Depending on where my military-officer father’s assignments took us, we did turns in all kinds of nearly indistinguishable denominations: from Evangelical Free to Bible churches. But we spent the bulk of our time with the Southern Baptists. I liked the SB’s, as we called ourselves. They were steady and without pretense and highly egalitarian, yet still earthy enough to kick dirt on our charismatic, Pentecostal brothers, what with all their emotive pew-jumping and tongues-speaking. If we wanted people carrying on from the pulpit in languages we didn’t understand, the SB’s reasoned, we’d have become Catholics.

In the one-dimensional world of easy secular stereotypes, many mistakenly think that most Baptists have a bit of the snake-handler in them. But the only time I saw a rattler at church–behind the education building–one of the deacons killed it with a shovel. Being Baptist was actually much less dramatic than getting bitten by poisonous snakes. The articles of faith were easy to keep track of. Baptists generally believed that faith in Christ and His redeeming sacrifice earned you salvation, that you would evidence this faith by climbing into a baptismal one time in your life to get dunked by a preacher in fishing waders, that you were to religiously attend potlucks to which you’d never bring a store-bought sheet cake, and finally–and this one was
open to some interpretation–that you would refrain from drinking, dancing, and especially drinking while dancing. If you lapsed, and did either or both, you could still ask forgiveness, and were in no danger of getting your name scrubbed from the Book of Life. But you were taking your chances in gossip circles–gossiping being Baptists’ official sport outside of church, and often inside of it.