No, the above sign is not ironic.
Yes, it’s really truly plastered on a church sign not far from my house.
About once a month I drive by this church. The messages plastered on the sign almost always cause my blood to boil. I’ll never forget the first time it made me so mad that I had to reel my temper in.
That time the sign read:
“Since when did Jesus give you the liberty to dress like desperate housewives”.
I swear – I’m not kidding.
Anyway, I did a lot of praying and thinking and deep breathing and decided that my desire to prance into the pastor’s office in a short skirt and stripper heels while toting a Bible and put him in his ‘place’ was a bad plan.
So, I didn’t say anything then. For whatever reason it was the right decision for me at the time, but this time around….
When I drove by that sign this time- demeaning me because I’m a woman; dictating what type of job I am permitted to have; giving no regard for my love of God; and insinuating that the only way I, as a woman, have value is by my being married to a man….
[note: I’m divorced, mother of three amazing boys, a pastor, and not married. I’m breaking all the rules….]
Well, I could not keep silent. I mean, for the love of God… seeing it and saying nothing, squashing my indignation because of my fear was, for me, a silent acceptance.
Originally I posted this picture to facebook and on twitter with the pastor’s phone number (he put it on his sign), so many of my friends and acquaintances couldn’t help but leave him messages. But he never returned any calls.
However the church’s website advertised Bible study on Thursday evenings at 7 pm. I figured he wouldn’t take an appointment with me, but he’d be there for Bible study – ready to ‘win’ souls for Jesus (forgive my sarcasm – I do love Jesus, just not all that goes with that ‘winning’ concept).
So, I picked my 14 year old son up from soccer and headed to the church. I explained to him what I was doing and that I needed him to stay in the van with the doors locked, to which he asked, “Do you have your pepper spray…?” A friend of mine was meeting us at the church so I wasn’t alone and because she was offended by his sign too.
So we sat there waiting for someone to arrive.
And they did.
I almost chickened out when the van had a large door magnet on it that said:
“Are you choosing heaven or hell?”
I knew going into it I wasn’t going to get far with this guy, but that magnet sure drove the point home. But we got out of our vehicles and waited patiently on the sidewalk for the pastor.
“Now or never, Christine,” I kept thinking, as my friend assured me, “You can do this…”.
So, since many have asked – this is how it went (And don’t hold your breath. There is no kumbaya moment at the end.) I’m paraphrasing a bit as it was all just conversation.
I walked up to him wearing a clerical collar just to reinforce the point, with some rocking red lipstick because I’m pretty sure it wards off the devil and put my hand out to shake his.
“Hi. You have two minutes to talk?”
CC (initials of the pastor), “Sure.” He stood there with his arms crossed across his Bible, looking defensively at me and my friend. We carried out our entire conversation on the sidewalk. He had no intention of inviting us in.
Taking a deep breath I said (and this I remember practically verbatim because I practiced it over and over again in my head), “My name is Christine and I don’t live far from here. I really wanted to meet you because your sign tells me that you don’t like me based on who I am as a person and your sign makes me want to have nothing to do with you. That seems contrary to the message of Jesus.”
CC listened politely to me, nodding his head in a placating fashion most of the time, before saying, “The Bible’s pretty clear on this.”
I so did not want to get in a theological debate with this man. I had no delusions of being able to change his mind theologically but I did want to express a different way of being ‘Christ’ than lambasting people with signage. But, I mumbled out some words about historical context and the differences between the truth and the words on the page.
His question back to me was, “So the instructions in the Bible don’t matter to you?”
I was hot! Biting my tongue I assured him that the only reason I was standing before him was because the Bible matters an enormous amount to me.
CC was really stuck on the fact that in his interpretation of the Bible you should be a man, be married, and have children in order to be a pastor. He honestly couldn’t get over the fact that I’m not married and I am able to function (I mean, really – whoa is me – not married? How will I survive? OK – let’s not let my boyfriend read that line). Anyway, throughout the conversation he came back again and again to it.
I asked him if he believed in slavery.
He said, “No. Why? Do you?”
“No. It’s just it’s in the Bible,” I returned.
“That’s a weak argument,” he said, “you’ve had your two minutes.”
Let me tell you what I wanted to say was, “No frickin weaker than your idea that I have to be a man to be a pastor,” but I didn’t say that….
I said, “I know we aren’t going to agree theologically, but the truth of the matter is we are both working for the kingdom of God and being able to treat one another lovingly will get us a great deal farther than hate. I read your website and I see that you’re really interested in being involved in the community. I am too. I think it’s important. But your sign isn’t conveying that to the community. It says nothing about the love of God.”
And then he said this, which shocked me then and breaks my heart now, “I’ve been to many churches – Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran and they are disgraceful. They disgust me. I can listen to sermons on the love of God maybe 4 times a year, but not 52 times a year.”
Can’t listen to sermons or hear about the love of God more than 4 times a year?!
I’m sorry about that for him. That his heart is so hard that the love of God has become mundane.
When he asked me if I believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light, I paused. I had to do some mental gymnastics quickly, because you see… I do believe that, just not the way he believes it. I said that I do believe in the way of Jesus, and the truth of Jesus, and the light of Jesus.
This is maybe the only time he smiled the entire conversation, because he said, “Well, that’s a starting point.”
I felt like I had lied.
We got into a little conversation about how long a day is, Good Friday, and the inerrancy of the Bible…
My friend had a little conversation with him about the value of women… We all know how far that went.
But in the end he said again that I’d had my two minutes (which was actually 20 minutes and I was mentally exhausted), so I shook his hand and said, “I really just wanted you to meet a female pastor and know that I’m working with you for the Kingdom of God. It was nice to meet you, Chris.”
I turned and walked back to my van where my son was waiting for me, texting on the phone and oblivious to the fact that I was locked out of the van. I didn’t want to stand there another minute. Sitting down in my seat my hands were still shaking as my son said, “So, how did it go….?”
Well, that’s how it went.
Not very far, but as much love and grace as I could muster.
And, by the grace of God, I didn’t throw up on his shoes….
I must close with this…
I am forever indebted to women I have never known, who fought fights I wouldn’t have the courage to begin.
I am reminded that I am not black or latino and have never had to demand a place in society because of my skin color.
I am humbled by gay and lesbian people who forsake their fears because of the power of enduring love.
And despite it’s faults and failures, I believe in the goodness of the church and the body of Christ.