This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?
As anyone who’s ever taken History of Christianity 101 knows, the Protestant Reformation was all about getting people to read the Bible, which was not exactly a priority of Roman Catholicism. And to this day, Protestants read the Bible a lot more than Catholics. Similarly, American evangelicals over the past century have been preoccupied with the Bible’s accuracy (aka inerrancy); Catholics, not so much.
Ergo, media markets where evangelicals dominate will be the most “Bible-minded.” And it won’t only be those with low rates of religious adherence that come in at the bottom. (Yo, Nones!) It will also be the most Catholic ones. Like Providence, the most Catholic city in America. And number 99, Albany/Schenectady/Troy NY. And number 98, Boston MA/Manchester NH.
I suppose we should cut the author of the Time story, Sam Frizell, some slack on this. He’s but a humble business and breaking news reporter. But albeit New York City has made the bottom 10 for the first time, shouldn’t his editors have known better? And for crying out loud, why isn’t GetReligion, cop on the Godbeat, all over this? Surely tmatt & co. don’t equate Bible-mindedness and Godliness!
That said, there is some real news in this latest ranking. For example, there’s Chattanooga TN being displaced by Birmingham at number one, and Knoxville TN, which just two years ago ranked number one, falling entirely out of the top 10. At this rate — cheap shot alert — they’ll soon be teaching evolution in the Volunteer State.
The results do contain a puzzle or two. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Cedar Rapids/Waterloo IA comes in at 96, while Davenport IA/Rock Island/Moline IL (more Catholic) is up at 45. And I’m shocked to find Colorado Springs/Pueblo CO lagging at 65. What the heck’s wrong in the Mecca of Evangelicalism?
But I think I know why Salt Lake City is all the way down at 90. Barna and the American Bible Society just don’t accept reading The Book of Mormon, that other Testament of Jesus Christ, as a sign of Bible-mindedness.