One of the presidential candidates recently described people from small towns as bitter. He stated, “And it’s not surprising . . . they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Every week, I travel our state that is filled with small towns, and I guess I haven’t been looking at the right things. I have missed the bitterness.

What I do know to be true is that small-town Oklahoma people can be described as people who “cling to.” I do think it important to provide a few synonyms to help you understand what clingy people do. They adhere, grip, stick, hug and clutch, which are all words with the same meaning.

While the candidate did not mean his words to be complimentary, I will tell you I think he may just be on to something. I do find that rural Oklahoma people are clingy people. And while they may cling to their guns (we are a part of the Wild West, you know), I will leave that and the candidate’s remaining observations for others to parse.

The people I find in small towns across this state do adhere to “religion.” Actually, I would much prefer it said that they adhere to the tenets of the living faith of a living Lord called Jesus Christ. They seek to treat others as they would want to be treated. Far from bitter, these people of the land are committed to truth, integrity and humility.

I think of the people of Oklahoma’s Panhandle who have stuck through dust bowls, drought, low cattle prices and a myriad of other hard and tough situations. They are some of the most giving and gracious people I have ever met. I do not see bitterness, but gladness and grace-filled lives. This is not due just to a tenacious spirit; it is the result of a sticky faith that has not nor will not fail them.

Small-town Oklahoma people do better than survive-they thrive. The people I know give clear testimony that it is because they are “in His grip.” Preaching in small churches in small communities all over this state, I meet joy-filled people who have experienced the love of Christ and His constant provision in good times and bad. They are in the grip of the Father who is greater than all, and therefore they are at peace even during difficult situations.

I and others do not “cling to” religion as a crutch, but we clutch to Jesus because He is our life and our very existence. We have discovered that without Him we can do nothing. We clutch to Him because He is faithful. In storms, He is our peace. When we are weak, He is our strength. When we stumble, He picks us up.

So I would invite the candidate to come walk with me among small-town Oklahoma people. Overwhelmingly, he would discover a lack of bitterness, but he would find them guilty of clinging to their religion. They cling because they have found an anchor and cleft in the rock that leaves them not bitter, but peace filled.