“If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”
Eli Wallach as Calvera in the Magnificent Seven ©
I don’t like church. More specifically, I’ve got church issues. There, I said it.
When I say I have church issues I mean I have beaucoup church issues. These issues are Ike and Tina sized issues. Wolverine/Sabertooth issues. Whitney Houston/sobriety issues. Israeli/Palestinian issues. Right-wing Republicans/common sense issues.
Yep, these issues are that big
Before y’all cast me out as heretic, hear me out. I know black folks love us some Jesus, but this has nothing to do with him or his Dad. This has to do specifically with churches. Maybe this will make sense to you and I’ll come around in the way I view organized religion. Then again…
On Sunday I had the absolute worst experience within the four walls of what is supposed to be a church in my life. I found myself praying like Jenny from Forrest Gump, “Wanting to be taken far, far away”. I’ll explain that later but to understand my position here’s a brief rundown with my relationship with church.
From as far back as I could remember I have never actually enjoyed going to church. As a child I would do my best to over sleep to avoid going. There were a million other places that I would rather be than at St. Luke Baptist church in Fairfax, SC (Stand up!) on a Sunday morning. I would find myself sitting in a place I didn’t want to be, wearing clothes that I didn’t want to wear, listening to the same songs week after week; all the while I was bored to death. I did listen to most of the sermons, but I did find myself not caring about what the guest preachers had to say.
Overall, I simply didn’t care to be there!
My apathy continued, as I got older. I got baptized while in middle school. This was mostly because of parental pressure. “When are you and your brother going to join the church?” This would be the question that I would be frequently asked by my parents. So during revival my Brother and I got baptized.
“I Shouldn’t Have Done it” Slick Rick ©
Not once during this process did any one explain what taking the literal plunge meant. Granted, if I had been paying attention I would have known, but I didn’t pay attention and the story continues. So, physically, mentally, and spiritually nothing changed for me during the following years. I still prayed, believed in God, but I can honestly say that I did not fully understand what it meant to be “saved”. Sure, my church was filled with nice people but this changed nothing in my eyes. What I did know was that I had ton of questions and I couldn’t find any tangible answers.
When I did get answers they didn’t make sense with me. Phrases like “They are filled with the spirit” were tossed about but nothing that I thought was usable was given to me. I would also hear Bible verses uses as answers to these questions, but they only added to the confusion of an over analytical teenager.
So by the time I became an upperclassman in high school I’m starting to chalk my train of thought up to me just being a cynic. The hooping, hollering, and the rest of the show baffled me. No, I didn’t attend a holiness church where the church scene from the Blues Brothers was a common thing, but I watched people act as if they were perfect angels for a couple of hours on Sunday but come Monday morning they would sit poised to rain hell for the next six days. The blatantly, obvious, fakeness, or what I perceived to be fakeness of “church folk” would become my next issue with the church. At this point I began to think that the literal church was ok, but it is just the church people who were askew.
This was a possible answer that I went with for a while but upon further thought I came to this conclusion:
The church is both an organization and a building. If both an organization and a building are built with shoddy materials, or ran by shoddy people, isn’t structural failure of some sort eventually going to occur? But again, I think to myself “You’re a cynic, who is being cynical. It’s not them. It’s you.”
Questions would arise that I couldn’t answer. Are these people actually filled with the “Spirit”? Is it the music? Or are they just putting on?
As I grew into adult-hood the actual leaders of the church would become my next point of contention. Who are these people? Really, who are these people? What qualifies them to watch over the souls and spiritual well being of their flock? (Remember that word, flock kids.) Has anyone besides me ever questioned this?
“I was called to preach.” Is what I would hear. Okay, this may or may not be true but how does John Q. Public sitting in the pews know this? Because you said so is isn’t a good enough answer for me. Under idea circumstances I would love to believe that is the case but I could never just sit back and believe this without a ton questions. I know preachers and such are people too and since we hold them in such high regards shouldn’t our standard for them be higher too?
So at this point I’m a grown man. Until Sunday I had not set foot in a church for about a year. See my Girlfriend was actually was raised in the church and I just went to church. (There is a difference.) During the past few years we both have questioned the set-up and actions of the church. At the behest of one of my girlfriend’s coworker we went to church. We entered the church at 11:15 and our next moments of happiness would not occur until we exited at three something that afternoon. (Read that last sentence again, and take it all in.)
First of all, this was “holiness” church. This “church” was not in an actually church. It was in the back of a recreation center near the Amtrak station in North Charleston. When we finally found the place there were a bunch of janky looking men dressed like a cross between Steve Harvey and T.D. Jakes. Not a good sign but things stood to get worse. As we approach the church I hear someone “speaking in tongues”. As we entered we found a seat and some old bat is onstage saying, “we decree, various things over and over followed by plain old gibberish”.
I was also puzzled by the ratio of women to men in the church. All of the men in the church over the age of 35 seemed to have held some type of position within the church. The rest of the male make up of the church were boys under the age of 21. There were only two other men who fell in between these ages beside myself who were not affiliated with this “church”. This led to the question: why do so many women fall for the shady church trap?
With that being said, the hooping and hollering increased more and more while the band set up. The old bat that was initially warming up the crowd passed the microphone to one of the aforementioned janky individuals. He continued on asking everyone to please stand. With this the real show began. More speaking in tongues and other glittering generalities were spat toward the crowd and things really began to get interesting.
After a while I realized that we have been in this “church” for almost and hour and there has not been one single thing resembling a prayer. Although we did not know it yet, it was almost time for the first fleecing of the flock of the day. The way the preachers controlled the congregation was somewhat masterful. Using the music, the gibberish, and various glittering generalities the preacher types got the mostly ovarian crowd excited to the point where they were willingly to give as much money away as possible! Knowing this, the first of the janky preacher types called for the first of the collections and the crowd, in their sweaty state, was willing to pay for the goodness that they were warmed up for.
Things at this point calm down a tad and another preacher steps up to take his turn. Again, with the help of the music another spiritual orgy commences. This one was much more intense than the previous one. The fervor and the strength of the message increased ten fold. This preacher called for more hooping and hollering, instructing the crowd to dance at his instructions, and dance they did. With the smell of baby powder, church lady perfume, and sweat in the air the tension in the room increased even more.
At this point I realized what Ms. Moneypenny and I had gotten ourselves involved in, A prosperity ministry. From that point on all of the talk involved money. With the addition of money rhetoric the preacher began to ramp things up to a higher level. It started off again when the preacher asked a lackey to go to his car and get the $500 out of his trunk.(Sometime during this madness a small Louis V treasure chest was placed at the foot of the pulpit.) This started another frenzy although, he did not speak in tongues (I’m guessing he was the straight-man ) Minutes later, after constant talk of the Lord making you rich, preacher says “Y’all know what I’m gonna do? I’m going to dance over my STUFF.” Repeating his phrase “I said I’m going to dance over MY STUFF!!!”
This sets the crowd off to a point where everyone, and I mean everyone not named Keith Francis Young or Crystal D. Cade started dancing.(Well there was another dude in the back who looked more shook that we did.) During the dance over his stuff, the preacher makes his way to the corner of the pulpit and begins to dance in front of who I could only assume to be the mastermind. The crowd goes even crazier. The congregation then lost control of themselves, their common sense, and their pocket books. In mass, they rushed the stage where the main preacher began laying hands. This was our chance to bounce but we hesitated and we would pay dearly for this. As the congregation carried more money up to the preacher, the more hands were laid.
True to fashion the crowd calmed down again as the Main preacher approached the microphone. (Still not a single prayer.) Instead of standing and preaching two of his lackeys bring his throne preaches. He opens with asking everyone to stand. He then adds this bit of knowledge “People still call me Bishop because they don’t recognize my anointing. I am an Apostle!”
Here are the highlights of his sermon: like chair to the front and he has another lackey hold his Bible while he
God wants you to get paid.
He declared that some woman in the congregation was cured of fibroid cysts due to the laying of hands. (I learned later on that afternoon that this was another glittering generality. Crystal informed me that black women tend to have a larger percentage of fibroid cysts than white women. We were in a room filled with black women.) Just to cover his behind he adds a disclaimer, “Check with your doctor to make sure.”
He is hated because he wants to include prostitutes and faggots in his ministry.
He says a prophecy that one day he and his brother (who turned out to be the second preacher, that danced over his stuff) will start a ministry in Africa and “blow up!”
He informs the crowd that Jesus was not a poor, humble man, but in fact he was a man of wealth who owned property.
He points out the young lady who was sitting next to me and tells her to get up and shout. She does it but not to his liking so he implores her to continue. She does and she pokes me in the eye this time.
He was constantly drinking a blue beverage from a wine glass during the sermon.
I could continue, but we all know where this tirade was going to end. That’s right kids; we got to see another hallelujah orgy which then ended with yet another quasi-orgasmic offering.
With the soul stirring finally reaching a crescendo the blood and the body was brought to the front of the church. At this point I’m thinking myself “I honestly can’t take communion here.” So all of the sheep get in line after their sheering to take in the body and the blood. Crystal and I also get in line, but at the last minute we bolt with another couple for the door.
Nothing about what you just read is made up. I have a witness who will back every last aspect of this story up. I know I shouldn’t judge all churches by this one but my questions are much bigger than this church although this church, an extreme example, did bring up a lot of feeling that I need to work out. Crystal and I can’t be the only logical people who feel this way about the institution of the church and the people who run it. Do people actually want to hold on to something that bad that they would willingly follow Apostles like the one I was witnessed to yesterday? I was almost expecting to see Daddy Rich and The Pointer Sisters stroll in.
I’m not the best man walking around the Earth, but I know when something isn’t right. I take the Doc Holiday approach to life. I’m very much aware of my hypocrisies and I try to only let them go so far. Something is deadly wrong when you find yourself in church praying for forgiveness for having come to church. (Read that last line twice to take it all in.)
I need some answers. I can’t just be me. Or is it?