Saturday night, around 2 AM, I finished my English one-oh-one reading. Just as my eyes were closing for the last time that night, my father stuck his head in the door. "Don't forget we're going to homecoming tomorrow." I mumbled some reply, his words not yet sunk in through my fatigue. "Wake ya up at eight. Goodnight." And he shut the door. Just then my eyes shot open and what he'd just said, reach my brain; homecoming.
Once a year, a small church in the middle of South Carolina peanut-country, has its annual Homecoming. It's a time when all the members, both past and present, come back for worship and the massive dinner afterwards.
I've never been one for religion. Frankly, the comments made by Governor Jesse Ventura of Michigan in Playboy magazine on religion, really hit home for me. He said, "Organized religion is a sham and crutch for people who find unity in numbers." Ever since witnessing normal people crying on the floor, a man walking around exorcising demons from them as though he was Jesus, and a church of a thousand members entranced by one human being, religion hasn't appealed to me anymore. Just the thought, of an ordinary human being, walking around under the assumption he has the power of God, frankly scares the hell in me. But that was a big church, with thousands of parishioners, with very deep pockets. The church I'm going to, as I said, is very small. The whole church would barely fill two average school buses; past and present members combined. Their annual trip is to a local park for a picnic. The much larger church I had attend, takes an annual skiing trip to Colorado.
In Augusta Georgia, where I currently reside, there is no "small churches" anymore. All of the current churches are big, rich powerful congregations. I've been to over half of them, some longer than others. Every time, one thing has always stopped me from ever going back: homosexuality. I believe in a person's civil rights, regardless of their sexuality. But each time I went to these churches, sooner or later the pastors and ministers will stand up, and proclaim from the pulpit in one form or another:
"We must rid this world of the devils and homosexuals alike."
There's just something about these large churches, with so many God fearing, homosexual hating followers, that puts a deep fear inside of me. A fear that's so bad, I've never gone back [to any of those churches] again.
So now here I am, sitting in this small church surrounded by fields of peanuts, cotton and soy beans, with a feeling of apprehension. To my right, up two rows is a beautiful young man. About eighteen (my age), with brown hair, firm build, and strong jaw line; I dare not question myself where or how he got the blonde highlights. But something deep inside of me says it's very wrong to look at another male the way you should a female, in the house of the Lord. So I turn away and wait for the service to begin.
The pastor walks down the rows and introduces himself. We laugh at the small-world irony of his first name, being the same as my last name; a very rare occurrence. He takes his place behind the pulpit, and I take mine in the pew. There's an opening prayer and a nice "get to know your neighbor"; mine was my father. We sing a few hymns, sit and the pastor speaks some more. All the while I haven't dared laid eyes on the boy in the other pew. My conscious and mind say if I do, then everyone will know who and what I really am.
The pastor sits down with some small children and gives them their own little service, complete with candy. Then retaking the pulpit, he flows into a sermon of loving your neighbor and friends, regardless of their sins, or faults. And then he says something, I've never heard another preacher say before.
"God loves us, regardless of our sins or faults, no matter how small or large."
And suddenly, the comments made my Governor Ventura make sense. Big churches are a sham. They rely on unity in large numbers, and playing on so-called beliefs in devils and homosexuals, to stay afloat. But a church like this one I'm at now, survives on the love and devotion to God by its members, not proclamations of devils and ridding the world of them.
Now after three helpings of hash, rice, and pecan pie, I now look at that young man from before, with every bit of love and lust in my heart. I no longer afraid of what anyone might say or think. The world needs more churches like this one. More churches whose members stick together through the belief in God, and the sheer love of their fellow man, regardless of his or her sins. Big or small.
I now wonder if any of those pastors from the big churches like the Reverend Falwell, would like to come out here and preach their brand of hate. I wonder what the parishioners would say? Amen, or Hell No!
Jonathan P., 18, is a freshman at Augusta State University in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org