I was perusing through many of my essays, rants, and memes on here, realizing that I have spoken a lot about my experiences within a religious family. I've spoken only a few times on religious experiences at a church. Seems I am overdue for a lascivious story of scandal in a small 42 member church in the southwestern town in Ohio called Monterey.
Grace Bible Baptist Church had a holy roller of a pastor with a compassionate flair of theatrics for discussions about Hell and Israel. Be sure he never used the two in the same sentence! And, I joined this church on the recommendation of a young man I was dating. Being only 19 at the time, still believing there was a higher power, but my taste for organized religion souring, I thought it would be alright to attend. Everyone seemed to like me, and I even knew a few other folks that were extended family of a man I'd dated a year prior. At first, this church seemed like a good fit.
There were never long arduously drawn out organ reveries of At Calvary being played with our pastor and his brothers in Christ pleading for sinners to repent. I respected the fact that he preferred this to be done privately for the most part and only encouraged church members and guests to gather at the altar during revivals or holidays. This program was very different than what I was used to at other holy places I'd attended, and it was a great relief to have little of this type of show boating going on.
Women were friendly and rarely spoke on one another. Most were older than me by at least 20 years and just showed gentle concerns for my well being and my then boyfriend's battle with severe eczema and ailing mother. There were weekly potlucks, and after about three months, I began to attend Wednesday Bible studies. It was here that the woo was strong in this congregation, and it was here that I realized once and for all I would no longer have any part of organized religion, but would opt to satisfy my own needs with faith and the Bible.
Now, I guess I should mention I was very, very poor. Having just rented an apartment that needed cleaning and repairs done by myself, and working a shitty security job for less than six bucks an hour. Needless to say, I put everything I had into my children and had very little for myself. This especially showed in how I dressed. If I was not wearing my assigned uniform for work, I was in a blouse and jeans. Having been raised in a Pentecostal household, I knew that this was as low as I could go for Sunday finery without receiving a complaint from a church usually. I mean, most don't say anything so long as you are not in flip flops, sandals and a tank top. And for the first three months there, that seemed to be the case.
Well, once I was in Bible study, and we were digging through passages, by month seven we started digging into social topics and I remember distinctly the topic of clothing and proper dress being brought up. I have always held the view that vestments should be of little issue. Teachings in this church and others had taught me that the ancient laws of custom in church had pretty much been acknowledged as outdated. I also went a step further to point out in general discussion that to discriminate against others, even over clothing, would be a way to discourage God's presence in the lives of those who were lost.
At this point of my membership, I had begun to participate in the bi-weekly "debates". We would have a topic to debate for or against, having teams of 3 people on each side of the issue to represent. So, you can imagine how folks felt looking at me in my pants and shirt, clearly not a fine example of Sunday raiment, touting on about it being wrong to demand certain attire. They didn't care if it were a money issue, that is why one could ask for donations, right? I railed that this was shallow on their part and discredited the promise of heavenly rewards for being poor on earth.
The discussion had gotten so heated that our Pastor stepped into the middle of our small circled group of chairs and said we would debate this very topic the following week. Naturally, I was assigned to the side that felt dress in church should not matter, and you had the usual well to do ladies on the opposite side saying otherwise while they fidgeted with their hair clips and laced collars. The following Sunday, dress and materialism was discussed during the sermon. Quoting from Deuteronomy and then showing the conflict within the NT saying a woman should just be modest, he fired up the crowd for the following Wednesday.
I had two other members on my side of the argument, but they were not really willing. It was obvious in the way they spoke about what their personal perceptions of dress would be and their outright refusal to evaluate if their preference alienated others. Needless to say, when I walked into the church that next Wednesday night, I was not the least bit surprised to see that I was the only person on my side of the debate to be there! There was also a bigger turn out than usual! Yeah, I was pretty incensed. I knew an intervention when I saw one, and that is exactly what these people had intended the whole time probably.
So we debated. The view that supported dresses and skirts and blouses?
The only support they had were their personal experiences growing up, and that if they didn't maintain a strict dress code that people would attend in outfits like Paula Abdul and Madonna wore. Their crown piece of an argument? They felt it was disrespectful to wear pants in the house of god.
I am sitting RIGHT THERE next to them in pants!!
I made a point of standing up in my jeans and work shirt, and asked the entire group of twenty or so people,"Should I just leave now? I can't afford dresses, dress shoes, panty hose, or make up. You say if I can't afford them I should beg for them. What kind of message does this send to me or any other person who has a genuine love for God that wants to attend church HERE? I came here for my Lord and savior, not your opinions on fashion. And that is why I don't ask to be a member. This is GOD'S house, and I do not need your approval to worship him in the only clothes I can afford. I would think my wearing my best pair of second hand jeans and my work shirt I earn tithe money in would be a real acknowledgement of my faith."
Crickets. No one had anything to say because it wasn't just the truth of what passed through my lips, but it was the epiphany I blurted out loud right there in front of everyone while I was standing on the raised alter steps. The pastor stepped in within seconds of the awkward silence pervading the group saying that it wasn't fair I was the only person to represent my side of the team.
That really burned my ass... Instead of acknowledging what I said as a fairly accurate representation of what was happening within his church, he opted to discount me completely. In front of everybody. When we gathered at the tables in the back meeting hall for some potluck that night, I was even further outraged when one of the women on the opposing "team" came over to me with two large paper sacks filled with clothes. Not just simple things like t-shirts or jeans, no she went the full tactless church bitch route and had extra dresses she didn't wear anymore and hose and shoes. And she said to me," I have all these extras so you can dress like the rest of us and not have to worry about trying to find nice things anymore. We've got you covered, sweetie."
I quite literally took the two bags from her with a smile, saying,"How thoughtful!" Then I walked to the donation can by the door and dropped the two bags in there, adding,"I know there are women out there who need them more than I do."
Followed by a loud,"Fuck this shit!" as I walked out of that damned place.
I've never entered another church again. Ever.
Oh, and Grace Bible Baptist? I say that they were never sanctified because of the poisonous attitudes they preached towards one another. And here is the proof of it:
They split two years later and never recovered. It's just a rundown hollow shell which is a pretty accurate representation of what it really was to begin with. They never built their new church on the purchased property down the road. They never expanded their reach into the community. But who could have afforded to attend their church anyway? It didn't matter your love for God, but your submission to selfish prejudices.