By **Erica Wright**
Last week in a New York Times op-ed piece, novelist Amy Greene—daughter and granddaughter of southern preachers—questioned the new campaigning tendencies of churches. Here, she answers a few questions about this trend.
—Erica Wright for Guernica
Guernica: I remember when my small-town, Tennessee church switched preachers in about 1992. There was definitely a shift from “pray for your leaders” to “vote for this politician.” They even handed out guide ballots filled in with Baptist-approved candidates. Your op-ed implies that shift happened in churches across the state (or even the country). Why do you think campaigning entered churches?
Amy Greene: It seems to me that the shift began in the nineteen eighties, during the Reagan era, when politicians discovered how effectively they could use certain social issues in their campaign rhetoric to lock in the conservative Christian vote. I think at some point pastors across the country fell for the notion that Christians are morally and spiritually obligated to vote for one party over another.
What troubles me is that Southerners, Tennesseans, like myself, with more moderate views, seem to have no real public voice. I suppose for the media, focusing on the negativity of the protesters fits their narrative.
Guernica: What prompted you to speak out about the current direction of churches [now]?
Amy Greene: There’s a definite feeling in my community that how a person votes should be dictated by his or her spiritual beliefs. I’ve seen a bumper sticker around town that pretty much sums up the sentiment here. It says, “Tennessee is for Jesus, not Obama.” Then as the gubernatorial primary approached, my local television channels ran the candidates’ dueling campaign ads almost around the clock, many of them obviously using Christianity to garner votes. My frustration with what I was seeing and hearing, both in and outside of churches, motivated me to go against that age-old advice about never talking politics or religion.
Guernica: Does your forthcoming novel, Long Man, tackle any of these political issues that were absent in Bloodroot?
Amy Greene: I don’t approach writing with any kind of political agenda (unless it’s an op-ed piece, of course) and try to focus on storytelling, but sometimes issues come up naturally in the process. Long Man is about a little girl who goes missing from a town in the Tennessee Valley during the Depression, in the months before it’s flooded by a TVA dam. Writing about the TVA raises questions about the moral ambiguity of people being forced by their government when the end result is positive—many Tennesseans lost their land, but future generations, including myself, benefited from improvements that came to our area as a result of the dams. So, more political issues have come up in the writing of Long Man than in Bloodroot.
Guernica: Do you get tired of the negative portrayal of the South (particularly Tennessee right now) in the media? I’m thinking of the recent protests in Murfreesboro over the Muslim center at which more people were protesting the protesters than protesting the center.
Amy Greene: What troubles me is that Southerners, Tennesseans, like myself, with more moderate views, seem to have no real public voice. I suppose for the media, focusing on the negativity of the protesters fits their narrative. If they focused on the counter-protest in Murfreesboro and the generally welcoming nature of that town, there would be no story. I understand that conflict is more newsworthy. It just seems like a shame to me.
Guernica: Do you ever want to leave?
Amy Greene: Appalachia is a complex place. There’s a lot of beauty and a lot of harshness. I love and accept where I come from, warts and all. I can’t see myself ever leaving home.
Amy Greene is the author of Bloodroot, a novel. She lives in the foothills of East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains with her husband and two children.
Erica Wright is the poetry editor at Guernica. Her “interview with John Ashbery”:https://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/507/houses_at_night_1/, “Houses at Night,” appeared in Guernica’s February 2008 issue. Read her latest blog piece on W.S. Merwin “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1938/erica_wright_on_adultery_or_wh/.