In the middle of a Southern state, Hal Crowther asked his audience if the Bible Belt will gradually unbuckle.
The Orange-Durham chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State hosted Crowther at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough Tuesday.
Crowther is an essayist whose work covers topics such as the American South and the religious right. He has received numerous awards and was a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 2003.
Americans United is an advocacy group for religious freedom that has been around for 70 years. On both a local and national level, Americans United has focused on issues surrounding the separation of church and state, such as their opposition of school vouchers like those promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The Orange-Durham group was organized by retired pastor Rev. Rollin Russell, who started a chapter after legislators proposed a bill to declare North Carolina as a “Christian state.”
“We take grave exception for the intrusion of religion into politics and public policy,” Russell said.
The meeting began with Crowther reading aloud some of his essays on politics and religion.
He said that the American South has historically been a hotbed for evangelical Christian groups who have connected with Tea Party Republicans in recent years. He also credited the defeat of the Democratic Party in the 2010 midterm elections as a negative reaction by evangelicals to the election of an African-American president.
Jerry Morris, president of Orange-Durham Americans United, said that out of their four annual meetings, they try to get speakers for two of them.
“We’re just hearing what he has to say,” Morris said about Crowther’s speech.
Crowther followed up on the readings by answering questions from the audience. When asked about the election of President Donald Trump, he said he thinks that evangelicals only now supported him because he pretended to take their stances on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, even though he does not reflect Christian virtues in any other way.
“I have never seen hypocrisy like the hypocrisy of the evangelists,” Crowther said.
He told the audience to “vote for the right people” and set a positive example. He also criticized that in today’s era of digital media, writers are paid more for content that receives a lot of clicks and not what is necessarily well-written or researched.
While Crowther regularly writes about religion and the separation of church and state, he said that he did not tend to identify strongly with atheism. According to him, popular atheist writers have a “dismissive” view of God, and only view God as someone who either punishes or rewards people. This is in contrast to the belief system of Universalist Unitarians, who believe that all souls were created by God and ultimately find their way back to him in the afterlife.
“The important part of religion is what you believe in your room alone, not what you profess to a crowd of villagers,” Crowther said.