The truth is, no matter how deep my lack of faith, or how far I swing between agnosticism and atheism, and how much I believe this life is all we get and when we are dead we’re done, there is still something inside me, some stunted Pentecostal version of myself, that worries I will spend a miserable eternity in hell.
For ages, a deadly conflict has been waged between a few brave men and women of thought and genius upon the one side, and the great ignorant religious mass on the other. This is the war between Science and Faith. The few have appealed to reason, to honor, to law, to freedom, to the known, and to happiness here in this world. The many have appealed to prejudice, to fear, to miracle, to slavery, to the unknown, and to misery hereafter. The few have said ‘Think.’ The many have said ‘Believe!’
Robert Ingersoll, ‘Gods’
I am writing for the Christian agnostic, by which I mean a person who is immensely attracted by Christ and who seeks to show his spirit, to meet the challenges, hardships, and sorrows of life in the light of that spirit, but who, though he is sure of many Christian truths, feels that he cannot honestly and conscientiously ‘sign on the dotted line’ that he believes certain theological ideas about what some branches of the Church dogmatize.
Leslie D. Weatherhead, ‘The Christian Agnostic’
Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.
He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).
Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”
I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.
When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.
After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.
It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.
The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.
So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.
Misogynistic, if you ask me.
My cousin’s birthday is tomorrow. She won’t be around to celebrate it, because she died in a car accident in 2001 at the tender age of 25. Her father called my mother today and sobbed on the telephone as he remembered. Even 13 years later, the wounds haven’t healed.
I remember Tammy’s funeral. People wept and talked in hushed tones as expected, but this one felt much different from other memorials. Most were quite obvious in their belief that Tammy didn’t go to heaven. Some were so convinced of this they dared to say it out loud. You see, Tammy was reared in a strict Pentecostal home, and she wasn’t living according to those standards the morning she wrecked on an ice-covered road.
Years later another young person I knew passed away. Like Tammy, they had left the faith of their childhood and weren’t living what you might call a “righteous” life. This time, however, things were much different. The same people who judged Tammy clung to hope that this particular person had gotten right with God in the final moments of their life, and the funeral was filled with admonishments about letting God be the final judge. There’s nothing at all wrong with that line of thought, but I wonder why Tammy was treated so differently?
If God is truly love and if God truly loves us more than we can possibly love each other, why would he cast a young person into Hell before they even have a chance to figure things out? I can’t think of anyone who deserves an eternity of torment, nor can I reason what it would accomplish. Even the worst criminal is given a shot at redemption.
I saw Tammy in a dream a few years ago. She looked lovely, and we walked together for a while as I wept. It was probably just a meaningless creation in my sleeping mind, but I treasure it. I prefer to think of her happy and at peace. I just wish those who call themselves “Christian” would give her the same courtesy.
Happy Birthday, Tammy. I remember your lovely smile and your wonderful sense of humor. I remember the fun we had driving with the windows down and the music turned up loud. I hope I made you feel even half as loved as you always made me feel. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see you again one day. Until then I’ll see you in my dreams.
Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.
HBO’s new series, The Leftovers, looks very intriguing. And a little scary. After roughly 2% of the world’s population disappears in a rapture-like event, the show follows what happens to those who remain behind. This reminds me a bit too much of the movies I was forced to watch as a child while attending a Southern Baptist school.
I grew up without television, so when our teachers decided to show us a movie it was usually a treat. Not only did we get to feast our hungry eyes upon delicious cartoons like Bambi, we got to skip the monotony of classroom activities. Unfortunately, the movie selection wasn’t always so innocuous.
While still in elementary school, we were shown A Thief In The Night and A Distant Thunder – films that detailed the Rapture and the horrifying events that followed. These movies not only showed people being forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, but what would happen to those who refused. The first movie in the series had a particularly haunting song that is stuck in my head to this very day.
There’s no time to change your mind; the Son has come and you’ve been left behind. I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold. A piece of bread would buy a bag of gold. I wish we’d all been ready.
Because the Holiness church had taught me nothing about the Rapture but everything about what would happen in the End Times, I knew I would be one of those who was left behind to either take the Mark or be put to death. I wept hysterically throughout both films, so much so that my teacher mistook my tears for a desire to be born again. She led me in prayer a couple of times, but soon realized she was getting nowhere and told me to talk it over with my parents when I got home.
Needless to say, it was a traumatizing experience. Almost as bad as the time my aunt and uncle (also Baptists) showed my family a video of people dying in car accidents and going to hell. Good times.
So, it is with trepidation that I am actually looking forward to watching The Leftovers. Hopefully I have watched enough horror movies and reality television over the past 20 years to desensitize myself.