Alcohol sales reflect changing demographic in American South

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(Google Earth / Screen Shot)First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, Alabama.

SYLACAUGA, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – Christians in the South are worried about shifting trends in American religious practice that suggest churches and Biblical principles are going to be overrun and overruled by secular values like Sunday alcohol sales and Wednesday night sports practice.

In Sylacauga, an Alabama town of about 13,000, voters approved Sunday alcohol sales in late September at 689 votes in favor and 311 against—that's a two to one approval—according to AL.com.

"Instead of being the 'hub' of the community, churches today are simply one 'spoke' in the wheel of people's lives."
- Pastor Joe Godfrey

Joe Godfrey, a Southern Baptist minister and executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he believes this change is indicative of the church losing ground against secularism in the South.

"I can remember when schools looking to schedule an event would call the local churches to see if they had anything ... that might conflict with the school's tentative plans," Godfrey told OneNewsNow.

"If so, the school would find a different date to hold their event. That is no longer true," the pastor added.

'NOT REALLY TRYING TO PROMOTE DRINKING'

Sylacauga Mayor Doug Murphree said the vote for Sunday alcohol sales was tied to economic concerns about attracting restaurants to the area. "We're not really trying to promote drinking in Sylacauga," Murphree said. "But if you look at a big chain restaurant like Ruby Tuesday or O'Charley's, they're open on Sunday and a big part of their business is alcohol," the mayor pointed out.

Murphree said he met with church leaders before the vote and explained the economic benefits of Sunday alcohol sales. "They said they were not going to try to block us," Murphree said.

"Instead of being the 'hub' of the community, churches today are simply one 'spoke' in the wheel of people's lives," Godfrey said.

This increasing secularism is an observable trend in the South—and other regions. A recent Pew Research Center report indicates all American regions are becoming less Christian and more religiously unaffiliated.

In fact, as compared with 2007, Christians in the South decreased from 83 percent to 78 percent, while those who identified as "unaffiliated," which includes atheist, agnostic, and those who say they are "nothing in particular," rose from 13 percent to 19 percent.

'DIMINISHING POPULATIONS'

Pastor Godfrey said now churches give way to community needs rather than vice versa. "Today, churches try to find a time to schedule their events when ball teams, schools and civic clubs are not already planning something else," Godfrey said.

Meanwhile, Sylacaugan business owner Dee Walker said more people are coming to his craft beer and wine shop on Sunday afternoons. He says the number of religious leaders who patronize his business are indicative of the waning influence of the church in the region.

"You've got some diminishing populations when it comes to the religious opposition," said Walker.

Of those in the Pew report who identified as Christian in the South, 59 percent were Protestant and 15 percent were Catholic. Among the Protestants, 34 percent said they were Evangelical, making that category a majority in the region.