Monday, June 12, 2017

Purity and Sin

I faithfully attended Bible study until about the age of 16 or 17. One Friday evening, during youth bible study a guest pastor was introduced to us. There was nothing unusual or special about this as it was customary for young pastors to occasionally visit as guests speakers while honing their craft. He was 20ish, tall, blond, and clean shaven, wearing a dark suit without a tie. This guest youth pastor was communicative, friendly, quick to smile, and laughed easily. All were merits that lent themselves well to quickly winning over the group of teens.

After a short sermon, the boys and girls separated. The girls went off with a married couple who were nearly at the end of their studies to become pastors. Us guys went with the visiting youth pastor because he said he wanted to “rap with just the fellas”. His words. Not mine. After taking our seats the evening's sermon began. The youth pastor said he wanted to talk openly about sex and dating. Not exactly something I was eagerly anticipating.

After clipping off a piece of scotch tape, he carefully folded the strip so that the adhesive was on both sides, then asked us to pass it around twice. Despite finding the request peculiar everyone followed his instructions. By the second pass, most of the adhesive was not only noticeably absent but fingerprints also visibly smeared the entire surface.

“Do you see this fellas?” The youth pastor began with some noticeable amusement as he took the strip back from us. “Not exactly clean, is it?”

Everyone agreed with obvious puzzlement and confused laughter.

“And you might notice,” He attached one end of the tape to the top of the paper and then attempted to hang the other on the wall, but the worn tape could purchase no hold, and it all fell to the floor. “It is not only dirty. It is also no longer reliable, is it?” He retrieved the paper, crumpling it up. “Now, I'm going to be straight-up with you all here. This is exactly what a loose woman is like. Unclean, unreliable, and of no use to God-fearing men. You keep this filthy, used tape in mind when any of those girls start throwing themselves at you.”

I sat there staring at him in stunned disbelief. I quickly deduced this incredibly mean-spirited example was obviously some sort of test. Clearly, he was baiting us for some sort of clever lesson. He would wait until we began agreeing with him. He was patiently waiting for us all to begin casting our stones, then he would call us out on the hypocrisy of judging. After convincing myself of this scenario I anxiously waited.

The youth pastor talked more about the lost value of loose women. He explained why women who traded in their precious virginity for earthly pleasure before marriage could never make a good wife. Many of the boys laughed and agreed. But there were those few that seemed as uncomfortable and puzzled as I was. Maybe they were waiting for a big secret reveal as well. One that it was increasingly clear was not coming.

Perhaps, I would have remained locked in my stunned silence if the sermon had ended there. Yet, he continued on and it was the last comparison that struck something deep within me as he equated the situation to taking someone's used, worn running shoes. My disbelief began to evaporate under the roiling intensity of a new emotion burning through me. My thoughts and words occurred unbidden as I stood from my seat.

“I have a question,” I announced interrupting his sermon.

“Sure. I'm here to answer anything you need to know, brotha.” He said as he turned and smiled at me.

Throughout his Q & A, he used the term 'brother' frequently when addressing each of us. I suppose it was an attempt at camaraderie by declaring a sort of spiritual brotherhood through Christ. While that is all well and good, I also quickly noted he referred to all the White kids as “brother”, and me alone as “brotha”. Some would find this inconsequential. But much the same way of hearing a joke that was not funny the first time, repeated over and over throughout your life, it is a situation that grows incredibly annoying. As a Black person it is extremely irritating when dealing with a White person, who is clearly speaking properly with other Whites, yet when they begin directly addressing you, suddenly slide into either partial or full 'Ebonics'. I had to bite my tongue. This was irksome but it was not the thing I wanted to address. So I let it roll off of me and continued.

“Yes,” I began after a quiet breath out in an attempt to control myself. “Do you think it's right to compare actual living, feeling human beings to inanimate objects?”

The laughing in the room died off as everyone began looking between us. The atmosphere was suddenly a lot less jovial.

“I can clearly see this upset you.” The youth pastor began more seriously. “But what is wrong with calling out sin? Or truly confronting just how ugly the consequences are?”

“But I thought this was supposed to be done with love and compassion?” I asked.

“And it is. I am warning each of you out of love.” Explained the youth pastor.

“By warning us that any woman who has had per-martial sex is as worthless as a filthy pair of sneakers?” I asked with continued disbelief.

“It is clearly just an analogy to drive home the message, brotha.” The youth pastor laughed in a way that felt dismissive.

By then one of the youth pastors, Lauma, had arrived to watch from the doorway with crossed arms and a concerned expression. She normally taught the girls during evening Bible study. Perhaps she was passing by and heard what was happening.

“Regardless. You could have chosen any other way to explain this but you took the sickest route possible.” I continued. “Why?”

“Frankly, it is my lesson so I can choose how to teach it. And I believe you are so focused on the analogy that you are missing the message.” The youth pastor replied.

“So, any woman who has basically had pre-martial sex is just basically a whore?” I asked.

“I think we both know what is written in the good book about loose women,” He began with less patience. “You may not like it. You do not have to like it for it to be true.”

“What about your wife, pastor? Are you certain she was not a loose woman before you met? What about your mother? Or your sisters? Would you call them filthy if you found out any of them had per-martial sex?” I demanded.

“I think you are out of line.” The youth pastor's face visibly reddened with his tightening jaw.

“Walter!” Lauma gasped audibly. “You stop this!”

“How so?” I continued on with the youth pastor. “It is alright to cast harsh judgment on every woman, everywhere, ever? Except those who you love?”

“Stop it! Stop it, right now!” Lauma raised her voice as she stepped further into the room.

“What?” I asked with feigned confusion as I turned to her. “Me and the pastor are just rappin back and forth?” I looked back at him. “Isn't that right, brotha? I mean, isn't that what brothas do?”

“This is disrespectful. What has gotten into you?” Lauma asked with a disapproving scowl.

“Right. I'm the one saying crazy stuff.” I shook my head. Suddenly I felt this deep and nearly overwhelming disappointment swelling up inside of me. I was genuinely disappointed by this exchange. I thought better of him.

“You should apologize,” Lauma added as she continued watching me.

I looked at her and the youth pastor. Then I gathered my stuff and walked out of the room without another word.

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