Acton Institute Powerblog

Southerners Lead Church & Religious Giving

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I remember riding back to seminary in Kentucky a couple years ago with a young lady and we pulled off the expressway to grab a bite. As we were getting ready to pay our bill, the young lady, who happened to be from Mississippi, said, “God is telling me to give 100 dollars to this young man behind the counter of this restaurant. ” Needless to say this young man was thankful of God’s decision to speak through the young woman in this manner.

An article by Heather Donckels and a study by empty tomb, inc shows that Southerners as a group give the most to church and religious organizations. Empty tomb, inc. is a Christian research organization in Champaign, Illinois.

If there are any Southern evangelicals who have been a member of a church during a building campaign, this study makes even more sense. Midwesterners placed second in the study. While Southerners lead in overall charitable giving, they give less as a group to charities outside of the religious domain.

Donckels notes in her piece:

The North American Religion Atlas, using data from the 2000 census, shows a high concentration of Protestants in the South while Catholics dominate the Northeast. For example, only 8 percent of people in the South are Catholics, compared to 42 percent of New Englanders.

Francis Butler, president of the Washington-based Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, said research shows Catholics give about 1 percent of income to charity. Protestants, meanwhile, generally give double that, he said.

While this may be one factor of many, there is obviously more to giving than denominational demographics. One obvious factor may be that religious participation and church attendance is higher in Southern states, compared with other regions. Cultural differences are probably more of a factor than denominational factors.

Also in the article, University of Mississippi professor Charles Reagan Wilson is quoted as saying:

The South’s approach to giving has stressed private charity over governmental assistance. Southerners have long tended to be conservative on issues of government, stressing provision from family and churches rather than government intervention in times of crisis.

So it seems, there is still a flickering spirit of Jeffersonian political philosophy alive in Dixie.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • CJL

    Good article!

    But I take issue with the original article, see link above, because even though the South falls behind in other areas, wehn you add those other dollars we are still number one overall. For example, when you add non religion to religion giving the South on average gives over $900 whereas combined the West gives over $800. So overall we are still doing better than the greedy West. My 2 cents!

  • Ray Nothstine

    I agree with your assessment. In fact, giving to faith based organizations is money well spent. As a Christian, I certainly want to give to those who share my world-view. Many victims of hurricane Katrina know that it was the faith based groups who were present right after the storm, long before any government agencies were on the scene. In my neighborhood I heard they even cut through the fallen trees and debris to bring in hot meals, and this was almost immediately after the storm.

  • Nice article. Even within the ‘west’ as is denoted in the map, I have seen big differences. I came to Colorado Springs, CO from Southern California a couple years ago. Big differences just is that shift as well. This is also a shift from the last report I found on this (and other data)… from 1997! That report is at

  • CJL

    I had the good pleasure and honor of being able to go down and help out in the relief and I can tell you that many residents were appalled by the lack of care from other non-religious organizations and felt that they didn’t care, whereas many had nothing but good to say about Southern Baptists, Methodists, and other religious groups who went down and are continuing to go down to continue the rebuilding. I recently went back down last spring and there is still a lot to be done and the only ones still with their hands to the plow are Christian organizations. Everyone else came in and did their glitzy media spot, drove a few nails and hightailed it out of there. The real work is being done by Christians