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Alabama Religion
in the 20th Century

Pluralism: Alabama remained throughout the 20th century one of the most religiously homogenous states in the nation. (By the 1990s, two out of three church members belonged either to white or black Baptist churches, and nearly one in four Alabama residents belonged to churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.) But the most rapid growth was among new religious groups, especially Pentecostal and Holiness sects. By end of century, the Alabama Baptist State Convention (white) reported hardly any growth at all. Methodists, one of the dominant religious groups during the 19th century, declined sharply.

Social ministries: Activated by the movement to prohibit the sale and use of alcoholic beverages, Alabama evangelicals, who had generally avoided controversial state politics earlier, mobilized to force adoption of their moral agenda in the early 20th century. They not only managed to force the state to adopt statewide prohibition, but also became involved on both sides of many other social reforms (the women's suffrage movement, prohibition of child labor, prison and health reforms). During the 1960s black churches assumed leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the state, and white churches led the opposition to racial integration. By end of century, many of the moral causes advocated by politicized evangelicals consisted of issues such as anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality.

Fundamentalism: Challenged by liberal theological ideas about science, the Bible, and other issues then spreading through Europe and the northern U.S., many Alabama Protestants joined the Fundamentalist movements that advocated literal interpretations of the Bible, wanted to prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools, and rejected women in either secular or religious leadership roles. By end of century debates between liberals, moderates, conservatives, and fundamentalists replaced denominationalism as the major subject of religious warfare. Many evangelicals conceived of themselves as a besieged subculture toward the end of century, responding with political organization (Moral Majority, Christian Coalition) and anger.

Religious nativism: Until late in the century, Protestants particularly disparaged Catholics, and to a lesser extent Jews. By end of century, the attacks had shifted to Mormons, Moslems, Buddhists, "secular humanists," and practitioners of "New Age" religion.

Shifts from traditional views: Whereas Methodists and Baptists had led in advocating separation of church and state prior to the 1960s, they increasingly assumed leadership in advocating some form of school prayer and display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

Racial separation: Although formal barriers to black participation in formerly white churches slowly declined after the 1960s, informal barriers continued. By 2000, eleven o'clock on Sunday morning remained the most racially segregated hour of the week. Although black evangelicals tended to be more politically liberal than whites, they also tended to be more theologically conservative.

Bureaucratizing religion: Churches began to have services at least weekly and often more frequently. Revivalism declined sharply in importance.