We’re human. We judge other humans. We just do.
I am judged every time I step out of my house, and I’ve come to live with it. People look at me and think “African American female, natural hair, 4 kids. She must be unmarried, Democrat, on some form of public assistance.”
Then they find out I’m married, a Christian, and hold pretty “traditional” values (whatever those are).
“Aha! She’s judgmental, retrogressive, and hates gay people!”
(Because you know; once you’re a Christian, you automatically ‘hate’ gay people. Pshaw!)
So when M5X invited me to her cousin’s ordination service, I had to jump at the opportunity. There had been whisperings about his sexual orientation based on some dubious Facebook posts and a brutal attach he suffered here in Atlanta a few years back. (The latter truly saddened me. No matter how you feel about a person’s lifestyle doesn’t give you the right to harm them. Are we not all aghast when pastors in the Middle East and Asia are killed for sharing their faith? Well alright then!)
It took me more than a week to prepare for this event. I didn’t grow up in the church. I was raised Muslim. There are church functions and rituals that I am just not familiar with, but have always held a fascination for. When was the appropriate time to whoop? How do those old ladies manage to shuffle their feet so fast when the Spirit catches them? Why do religious (Black) Christians always have their noses crinkled when the pastor/bishop says something particularly profound? And what do you do when the person delivering the message has sex with someone of the same gender? All these things were a mystery, and I wanted to explore them!
So off we went to Camp Creek Road, down south past the airport. The church was called New Life Spirit of the Holy Incense or some such moniker. M5X and I were accompanied by her best friend, Elder B. All three of us were clad in conservative suits with hair styled in a manner acceptable to go before the Lord. A quick YouTube investigation had shown that there were expectations for our mode of dress.
When we entered the building for the ordination service, we were greeted by a 300 pound woman with a tattoo of a barcode on her collar bone. When I got closer, I saw that it actually said “HOPE”… but the letters were smooshed together. She nodded for us to go in, where we were greeted by 3 more ushers and helped down a short flight of stairs that led into an underground sanctuary, bathed in crimson and gold plating. You know: church colors.
There was a rather large man with light skin and curly hair standing on the stage, praying that every spirit of distraction would flee from that place. He wore a white cloak with black underpinning. A quick scan of the itinerary showed that this man was Elias Cotton, presiding officer. He encouraged us all to get ready to praise God as we never had before.
“Get ready to unbuckle your seatbelts!” he urged in a Madea-esque voice. “You heard me right! Get on your feet and stand if your ankles can support the weight. Go the bathroom and undo your Spanx if you need to! We gon’ shout and praise!”
And he and the choir – an assemblage of 4 women clad in black – did just that. Oh mercy, did they make a joyful noise. That’s church talk for “sing poorly.”
As they warbled their way through some Hezekiah Walker remix, preparing for the climax of the song, Elias Cotton raised his right hand towards the band and flickered his fingers urgently, encouraging them to give him so mo’ until he finally dropped his fist and threw his head back with an emphatic “Ha!”
This scenario played out again and again – in 6 minute intervals – with some pastor being introduced after which we were instructed to praise God for what He’d done for us that day.
“Didn’t He wake you up this morning? Well that’s something to be grateful for!”
Didn’t you ask me that same question 15 minutes ago? I wanted to shout.
But I was too interrupted by another praise leader who had entered the aisle at that moment.
“He’s a great counselator…He counselated me!” he was repeating.
The grammarian in me wanted to flee and stab her inner ears.
I scanned the room and saw that there were indeed a good number of gay/transgengered/just-not-heterosexual people in the room. I waited for a sense of distress to fall upon me, but it didn’t. When it comes to Christianity and the sins of others, I ascribe to Paul’s logic on the matter in 1 Corinthians 5:12. “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?” (It’s worth reading the whole of Corinthians. It’s pretty gangsta.)
I didn’t feel like I was in the midst of a Christian assembly: I merely felt like I was in a building, playing church in my grey suit and purple heels. This scenario plays out in churches across America no matter the sexual orientation of the congregants. I decided I would just enjoy the show.
There were several effeminate men waving desperately for an usher to bring them a fan. Just moments before, Elias Cotton was informing us that we needed to get on our feet “and praise!” because we were at a celebration, not in mourning. I snickered therefore when I noted that the fans the church was using were from a funeral home. It just seemed ironic. It suddenly dawned on me that I had left at home several items in my “church kit”.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Breath mints
- A handkerchief
- A fan
- A cloth large enough to spread over my thighs in order to stay modest
- A small bottle of water for hydration
- A heavy, musky perfume that poorly matched my pH
My deceased maternal grandmother must have been hollering with shame in Heaven.
An hour and a half into the service and nothing had happened beyond singing. I was beginning to tire, and so were the other congregants.
Elias Cotton could sense it too. He floated across the stage with amazing grace.
“You see, a lot of you are feeling allergic to this atmosphere he said, interjected his speech with sputtering laughs. “But if you’re allergic, don’t die! I said don’t die!”
At long last, it was time for the offering. Elias actually gave a good message, which encouraged me to drop $5.00 in the bucket.
“We are a 21st century ministry. We DO accept credit and debit cards,” he said solemnly.
The church was a mix of COGIC tradition and Jedi magic. I didn’t understand the costuming…but that’s probably my fault. Again, I didn’t grow up in chu’ch. There was a kid floating around in a Ku Klux Klan robe and a myriad of different sheets constructed into body coverings. That’s when my attention was turned to the church fashion. On one extreme there was a woman in nude stockings that made her legs look casket bound passing out fliers. On the other, there was a 40 year old grandmother sporting a low cut top that exposed her full breasts. The left one was covered with a tattoo of a dragon with its head plunged downward, engulfing her nearly exposed areola with its mouth. And then there were the guys dressed like women, complimenting each other on their shoes and women with buzz cuts and suspenders giving each other nods of “what’s up”. None of these sat together.
All this finally led to the moment we’d been waiting for. Yet another pastor was introducing The Overseer.
“When she comes to this stage, I want everyone in this room to be on their feet!” he growled. “Y’all not gon’ wear MY pastor out. Nuh uh! We are blessed and honored by the presence of the QUEEN of this house…guarding the fragrance of the house so that deliverance can abide in the house!”
I waited in anticipation for this woman to ascend the stage. With a welcome like that, surely she was a fearsome sight to behold!