The Judgment day billboard sprawls luminously below like a big tricked out index card over Memphis. The Rapture is coming, a world-wide crucible spreading death and destruction to the unrepentant of Graceland and beyond. One month before the Christian zealots’ judgment day and the Memphis airport vibrates with the ant flow of disembarking passengers and carnivores getting down to the serious business of waiting in line for ribs. There are rib joints bulging with impatient customers every few feet, underscoring why the Bible Belt struggles with epidemic obesity. Torrential rains and a tornado watch in Alabama, where I am scheduled to give a talk, have delayed planes and stranded hundreds. Passengers pace, prattle into their cell phones, slump morosely onto the floor, eyes scanning the horizon anxiously for any sign that the clouds will part, disgorge a plane and free them from the finger-licking blitz of Neely’s Barbecue.
But this is God’s country, and deliverance is all in good time. As only the fifth most religious state in the U.S. Tennessee bows to its neighbors, Alabama and Mississippi, in nationalist fervor and divinely ordained racist splendor. Decades after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Southern states have risen up in a spasm of anti-undocumented immigrant xenophobia. Following Arizona’s lead, Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee have passed legislation that either encourages or mandates criminal profiling of undocumented immigrants and their families, a most Christian ethos. What will judgment day look like for racist xenophobic states and their neo-Confederate policy makers? Harold Camping, geriatric mastermind of the now faltering California-based Christian radio empire that launched 2011’s doomsday cult, offered no clue. For fundamentalist Christians, racism—disguised as “America first”, patriotism, bootstraps free enterprise or any number of claptrap euphemisms—has always been a badge of honor.