Dr. Jim Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College, is an oft-sought teacher of religion in Chattanooga churchesPhoto by By Sarah Bonvallet
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If Chattanooga is not the buckle of the Bible Belt, it's not too far from it.
The city was tabbed Wednesday as the third-most Bible-minded city in the country by the American Bible Society in a study conducted by the Barna Group.
The Scenic City trails Knoxville and Shreveport, La., on the list, which combined levels of regular Bible reading and belief in the Bible's accuracy.
"If you're reading every week," said Geoffrey Morin, chief communications officer of the American Bible Society, "it's more than an occasional or seasonal passing. It's a regular part of your world. And that becomes indicative of a person. If you're reading weekly, [the Bible is] giving shape to your world view, the way you're making decisions."
Study respondents who reported reading the Bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible were classified as "Bible-minded."
The data is based upon telephone and online interviews, with nationwide random samples of 42,855 adults conducted during a seven-year period, ending in late 2012.
Dr. Jim Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College and an oft-sought teacher of religion in area churches, said Chattanooga is a far more religiously conscious city than places he taught in California, Ohio and Illinois. Where he might have to explain Old Testament background elsewhere when teaching, people here already know it.
"They're selectively better read in the Bible," he said of local residents, "but not across the board. They may not always be conversant with the larger [faith] traditions."
Yet, Catanzaro said, the ranking doesn't surprise him.
"I didn't think we'd necessarily be No. 1," he said, "but it's great to hear. It shows the seriousness of people's faith in this Tennessee Valley."
Dillon Burroughs, a Chattanooga author and senior writer for locally based Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, said the city's ranking "is quite an honor" and "should be applauded."
He said the city has more Christian ministries and schools -- college and secondary -- than cities of a similar size.
"There's a great emphasis on [them]," Burroughs said. "There's a higher respect for the Bible and the traditions of the Bible."
Another reason cities the size of Chattanooga and Knoxville rank higher on the list, he said, is their lack of religious diversity. Where they have a larger percentage of Christians, larger cities have a higher percentages of groups such as Muslims, atheists or those who profess no religion, he said.
Dr. Richard Mason, senior pastor of Brainerd Hills Baptist Church for 28 years, said the local ranking may come from a population influenced by both great preachers of years past and from faith-related schools in the area such as Covenant College; Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.; Tennessee Temple University; and Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
"There seems to be people of the church who have been to these schools," he said. "They know more Scripture. They also have a better understanding of doctrine, of what they teach. If you said the word eschatology" -- the theological science of the last things of humankind -- "around people in most places, they would look at you. People here know what it means."
Among other Tennessee cities, Nashville was 14th on the list and Memphis 23rd.
Mason said the Bible knowledge of members also helps keep pastors on their toes.
"In some ways," he said, "it makes my job more difficult. You don't tell them anything new [without work]. You have to be faithful, study and stay fresh. It's a big demand on those of us in the pulpit."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...