There was a stock tank below the pulpit The first row of seats was reserved for people being baptized. The next two were reserved for the families and friends of those being baptized today. We took up most of a row.
It was my cousins’ church. Evangelical, non-denominational, non-Pentecostal, so hip that I regretted sitting in the aisle seat by the wall. Speakers pumped out repetitively cheerful choruses so loud that you could feel the music coming out of your mouth if you tried to sing.
I wasn’t there to sing. I was there for my family. For my cousins.
So were a lot of others. ‘Saved’ and ‘unsaved’ alike. The church had pushed this as a life event.
They were talking about evangelism. They were so on top of things that they even mentioned colonialism. Real evangelism had nothing to do with that, we were told.
“Now, I know a lot of us like to do something called friendship evangelism.” the pastor said. “We become friends with an unsaved person and expect that, in the course of the friendship questions of faith will just naturally come up.”
“But here’s there real problem. Here’s where it can go wrong. We become so comfortable in the friendship, we value it so highly that we don’t want to rock the boat by bringing up the unpleasant things like sin. We don’t want to offend”
Verses were invoked. Darkness and light. Not yoking with unbelievers. It’s not just about marriage, after all. It’s about lifestyle.
“We can’t become friends with people without evangelizing. We can’t be friends with people.” he repeated. “The friendship can only happen if evangelism the whole goal.”
The baptisms began. Prerecorded video testimonies played in the background and the lighting shifted emotionally, people moved from the category of mere potential converts to that of full human beings whom one could befriend without ulterior motives.
It was mostly kids. Children who had accepted Jesus when they were six, and then again at summer camp, and were now trying to make it become real. My young cousin. My uncle was also baptized. He was the only adult baptized that day. He was also the only black man in the entire extended family. He had said he was a Christian years ago, but (behind his back) no one in the family believed him.
No one believed him now either.
As we left the parking lot, my mom seemed cautiously optimistic, despite the loud music.
“Wasn’t that a great message for Sue to hear?” she asked my dad.
Sue and her family had come, of course. She wasn’t a Christian, but she and my aunt had been friends for such a long time. They had been through so much together. She’d come anyway.
“You should have been there for the earlier part.” my sister said.
I had intended to come to the Bible study today. My little brother had asked me to come, all hopeful and wide eyed, where the others buried my non-attendance in starchy silence.
I had gotten involved cleaning and had forgotten the time. When I walked in, everyone looked up.
I hid in a corner.
“Pastor seemed so sad. He’s worried about his nephew in the IDF.”
I hadn’t known Pastor had a nephew in the IDF. His family is all in the East coast, but they aren’t Jewish that I’d ever heard. So this would be someone married in? How does that work?
I fretted as I reviewed what I had heard, trying to see how the earlier part would have played into the later.
Not enough people had showed up, so they were taking a break from the official study til next week. It seemed they were doing a question and answer session instead. My little brother asked why there are so many translations of the Bible. The short answer popping into my head was that words have more than one meaning and can be translated many different ways, and also most languages change so you have to keep retranslating into the new version of the language so that people still understand.
Pastor started in on Evil Greek Alexander imposing Greekness on everyone everywhere and the seventy translators of the Septuagint magically all coming up with the exact same translation. Therefore the Bible is true.
I sat in the corner and drew.
“I’ve tried to reason with the KJV only people, but even when presented with the evidence they don’t seem to see.”
It went on and on.
But maybe he was scattered and not at the top of his form.
Finally, it came around to prophesy. It usually does.
Apparently, at the end of the world, the state of Israel will be defeated and almost all Jewish people killed as “the power of the holy people is broken” Then, and only then, will God deign to come back.
“People think that since they’re so strong, since Israel has one of the best militaries in the world, they can take care of themselves. But that’s not how it’s going to be. They’re going to be almost totally destroyed.”
Various passages were discussed. The Lord, The Lord Almighty has a day of tumult and trampling and terror, of battering down of walls and crying out to the mountains, after all.
“But don’t you see? God has to let that happen. Of all the the people in Israel today, only 10% take God seriously…”
I am trying to imagine how this would have sounded, with the additional fact that Pastor was worried for a family member. It sounds worse, to me.
I mean, sitting around and saying God should totally wipe out some group of people is cold and frightening and apathetic and passive aggressive, but you could argue that no one loves a faceless stranger and that groups are abstractions.
But he was thinking of a specific person? A family member?
God has to kill you, nephew, and all your countrymen. Because you didn’t believe what I think you should believe.
You can’t even say he was lulled into complacency by distance.
When I came back to my home and home state I told my mother that I wouldn’t discuss my questions with her or her underage children unless asked. In all this time, I haven’t been. Maybe I could have gotten away with it under the ‘but this is a question and answer session’ clause. That didn’t occur to me, and frankly, my throat was clogged with angry. Maybe I’m passive aggressive too. I hadn’t thought about that.
I think, if I had been there for the earlier part, I still would have walked out.
He had had a little quaver of emotion in his voice.
Mom was sitting at the computer as I walked in. We exchanged pleasantries.
“Have you seen the news today?”
I had. I had spent the afternoon with an elderly gentleman, watching footage of rockets in Gaza and tunnels into Israel while he slept in his chair. Anymore, I don’t tell her anything.
“Why, what’s up?”
She mentioned the things I had seen. Then what her websites had said.
“It’s like it was before World War II. There’s a wave of Antisemitism going on. People are demonstrating against the Jews, and even here in America, at a school, they drew pictures of ovens and showed them to the Jewish kids.”
“It’s so weird. It’s just come out of nowhere.”