Love the Sinner

Tonight’s guest pastors were Nancy and Joe Taylor. They come on the first Sunday of every month to preach at the Federal Correctional Complex where I’m assigned (or “Faith Community Church” as the inmates say).

Mrs. Taylor is a small, domineering woman in her late fifties with gold-framed glasses and stiff hair. Her husband of forty years is a shuffling, unassertive man who gave up somewhere into their fourth year of marriage. I imagine the two of them grocery shopping on Saturday mornings, she the castrating wife, he the befuddled, infantile husband: Yes, Joe. You may push the wagon. No, Joe. We don’t need anything down that aisle. Joe, if you can’t push the wagon the right way–Joe, leave it alone, Joe. Oh, now look what you’ve done, Joe. Pick it up, Joe. No, Joe. It’s loaded with sugar. Don’t run off, Joe; stay where I can see you. I swear, Joe, you hit my heels one more time–Oh, for godsakes, just go wait in the car.

The Taylors participate in nineteen prison ministries across the state of Mississippi every month and have been serving prisons for over fifteen years. Mrs. Taylor also works with women on death row. She preempted tonight’s sermon by announcing her newest endeavor, a cause placed on her heart by God: the creation of a program aimed at inmates who live “alternative lifestyles.”

“You know what I’m talking about, folks,” she said before a quiet congregation. “I’m using the politically correct term, of course.” (Actually, the politically correct–and straightforward–term is “gay.” “Alternative lifestyles” is meaningless and condescending; it implies that homosexuals’ lives are defined exclusively by who they sleep with.) Mrs. Taylor didn’t go into the specifics of the program, but I assume she aims to convert homosexual inmates into heterosexual followers of Christ which, if successful, would make her the first person to accomplish such a feat.

The sermon began with a reading from the first chapter of Romans. The topic was sin. In a letter to an evangelical friend, I complained that our church doesn’t teach anything. The message is always sin. He said this is a typical problem in many churches–sermons that are “more milk than meat.” As a nonbeliever, I still believe there are lessons in the Bible worth learning outside the context of religion. But the tiresome diet of sin at our church is making me lactose intolerant.

Another thing I find tiresome are all the rapture predictions. The Bible doesn’t say when the rapture will occur, but this doesn’t stop the pastors from making their own predictions. They seem to get a perverse satisfaction in pointing out every recent natural disaster–and one woman’s startling revelation that children disobey their parents–as proof that the coming of Christ is almost certainly upon us. As if these things haven’t been happening since the beginning of recorded history.

Fifteen minutes into her hell and brimstone–and after declaring that earthquakes are caused by sin–Mrs. Taylor arrived at verses 26 through 27:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Mrs. Taylor looked up from her Bible and smirked. “Well, I guess that settles that,” she said. “For all those people who say it’s not a choice.” The congregation laughed. “For all those people who say, ‘God made me this way.'” Again, the inmates tittered like school children. Mrs. Taylor snorted “Well, folks,” she said raising her Bible in one hand like a torch. “There you have it. God doesn’t lie. It is man who lies.”

I sat very still with my head planted firmly in my Bible. Embarrassment. Rage. I felt as though the whole congregation was watching me, studying me, waiting for me to flinch, to show the smallest sign of discomfort that they might point at and say, Aha!

After church, I called my parents:

“Don’t listen to her,” my father said. “Everyone has their own interpretation of the Bible. Being gay is not a sin–”

“It is a sin, Dad. There is no room for interpretation. The Bible makes it clear that homosexuality–”

“Listen to me, Son. I love you, your mother loves you, and God loves you–”

“There is no God.” And with that I began to cry, not for my lack of God, but simply for the gratefulness of being loved.

“Are you there? Son, listen to me. There are a lot of ignorant people–Are you there?–there are a lot of ignorant people in this world. Don’t listen to her. She’s just an ignorant woman who–”

“No, no,” I said mourning the misunderstanding my stupid tears had caused. “It’s not that. I don’t care about that. It doesn’t matter to me what the Bible says or doesn’t say or if being gay is a sin. I don’t believe in any of that shit. I just don’t want to be singled out; I don’t want to be laughed at . . . .” More tears.

“I know, Son. I know.”

“Especially when half of the guys in the room have fucked around with each other–”

“Well, maybe that’s why they all laughed,” my mother said. Her voice came from far away. “They were all embarrassed, too. They know it’s true; that’s why they all laughed.”

Ironically, Mrs. Taylor was right about one thing: Man does lie. The laughing, the hypocritical finger-pointing, the snarky way she said “alternative lifestyle,” pronouncing each syllable slowly and with a crinkled nose as if she had smelled cabbage boiling–she herself is an example of man’s fallibility. The Bible makes no differentiation between the severity of one sin over another. Homosexuality is therefore no worst than gluttony, and we certainly don’t single out the drug addicts or alcoholics in the congregation; we don’t laugh at the overweight and obese. So why is it acceptable to harass homosexuals? Church is a place for worship and fellowship; not for singling people out.

After our fifteen-minute phone call had ended, I felt silly for letting it all get to me, and for crying in front of my parents. It only makes them worry to hear me upset. And I hate wasting what few and brief phone calls we have on tears and religion.

God help the poor bastards who participate in Mrs. Taylor’s homo conversion project. I can’t think of a more qualified person to lead such a crusade–a self-righteous woman who detests homosexuals, who knows nothing about homosexuality, who’s probably never had a gay friend or family member for whom she loved or even cared for.

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