On Being a Lutheran in the South

By Graham Glover

A Southern Lutheran

It’s not an oxymoron, although sometimes it seems like it should be. Compared to the Northeast and Midwest, there aren’t a lot of Lutherans in the South, especially Missouri Synod Lutherans.

But we’re here, Lutherans in the land of Dixie. Lutherans have a rich history in the South, but again, compared to our friends up north, we sometimes seem an insignificant bunch.

My father-in-law, a Southern Baptist, jokes that when I first met his daughter, he had to tell his mom that a Lutheran was a type of Baptist or else my wife’s grandmother would think she was dating an unbeliever. I get similar reactions when my non-Lutheran Southern friends visit a Lutheran church. “That sure didn’t seem like a church service to me,” they often say. “Are you sure you aren’t a Catholic? And what in the world were you wearing up there? Those “dresses” you got on are a little strange, don’t you think?” I am most certainly not a typical Southern preacher.

But even though Lutherans may be outnumbered in the South, and while our American heritage may be stronger in other parts of the country, I think the South is a most natural place to be a Lutheran.

Lutherans are steeped in tradition. Our tradition—the Church’s tradition—doesn’t dictate our faith, as our faith is always normed by the truths of Holy Scripture. But it’s a faith that is never separated from tradition. Like Southerners, our tradition informs our language, customs, and practices. Some might say it’s impossible to be a Lutheran without an understanding or appreciation of tradition. Tradition informs so much of what we do and who we are as Lutherans, such as our doctrine, worship, and reading of Scripture. And like Southerners, we acknowledge that tradition needs to change from time to time. While tradition is important, it is not sacrosanct. Tradition is not inerrant.

Lutherans are also deeply connected to community. While our congregations are self-governing, they aren’t wholly independent. We are part of a larger church body that binds itself to a common creed and a common understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Community means a lot to Lutherans, as it does to Southerners. Even when separated by city or state, Lutherans and Southerners are quick to rally around our commonalities. We are quick to identify with the larger community to which we belong. We do so because these communities mean something to us. They are important, both in substance and in style. These communities are not merely window dressing. They are part of who we are.

Lutherans are what I like to call appropriately formal. So much of what Lutherans do is formal: our worship, doctrine, and dress (to include those nifty “dresses” I get to wear during worship). By and large, Lutherans are not known for our informal demeanor. Some call us rigid, maybe even too rigid at times. But behind our formalities, most of which are appropriate, I think there is a laid-back people. And this is precisely the character of a Southerner—a formal but easygoing individual who will get all dressed up, talk properly, act dignified, and then offer you a beer or a glass of sweet tea and bare their soul to you.

So, to my fellow Southerners, we Lutherans may not look like what you think is normal for Christians. We may be a bit outside your comfort zone of how you understand Christian practice (especially the Lutherans who have “Missouri” in their name). But I’d like to suggest that you give us Lutherans a chance. Give us a look. I think you’ll find we have a lot more in common than you think!

14 comments

  1. Well said, Graham, I can relate as your 3rd paragraph is something my beautiful husband had said on many occasions, as his religion was different than mine, but I can hear echo your words. The bottom line is as you said, we are Christians with a deep faith and we shared our differences with love and respect and found that although the “dressings” of a Pastor was different, we were more than alike than different. Thank you for a the message.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Us Southern Lutherans enjoy our heritage and all of the opportunities we get to explain Lutheranism to the people around us! Catholicism is king down here in New Orleans. So it’s easier to explain Lutheranism to them by starting with, “well, it’s kind of like Catholic lite”, and go from there. We’ve had a great Lutheran presence here from 1839 onward, including many churches and schools.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have never met a southern Lutheran from the land of Dixie, but I was wondering if, as a general rule, they love southern gospel music as much as their Baptist neighbors. I am a New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised on Long Island, lived for 7 years in Tucson, Arizona, and eventually retired to upstate New York, not far from the Adirondacks. I have always loved those old southern gospel songs, all those wonderful songs from the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Loretta Lyne….and so forth. It is true that Lutherans are a bit more formal musically, but I would guess there are Gospel music fans in our LCMS churches.

    Like

    1. We love Gospel, Praise, Jazz and more! Oh and I also served my Vicarage at St. Paul Lutheran in Saratoga Springs, NY!

      Like

  4. Great Article Graham! I regularly invite southern folk to our church and have to field a lot of questions about our traditions in worship. “Appropriately Formal ” will now be added to my arsenal of quick answers. I grew up a Southern Baptist but fell in love with the Lutheran Traditions on my first Lutheran Service and the doctrine as I read the Bible more in that first year than in my previous 38 years. I will be sharing this with everyone. Blessings Brother!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey! Graham!!

    Not provocative enough – ya haven’t stirred up the first controversy!

    You must be losing your touch! LMAO! 😉

    Like

  6. Do have a technical question – I write one comment, I get the name of my site.

    Next one, my name shows up.

    Need to get that arranged so you have my name and my site. If you need my site addy, I can send that, but I might draw all the controversy my way!!!

    Heh! Let me know . . . Jeff

    Like

    1. Jeff, not sure about that (I’m not the site administrator). It could have to do with what account you are logged in with WordPress.com

      Like

Comments are closed.