Today I enjoyed (mostly) a Bible-literalist sermon with very little thou-shalt-not in it. Pastor Franklin is a long, lean man with a lively, commanding manner and an intelligent eye.
He compared himself to King David at one point: “Yes, I’m a warrior, a fighter. Don’t mess with my kids! Don’t mess with anyone in my church family! But I’m gentle, I’m compassionate [like David was].” Not in a spirit of boasting, either, because he addressed the congregation as “brothers of Jesus” several times. In fact, the first ten minutes or so was about claiming and using the power – “the anointing” – that God has already given us; a sermon that Dr. Kioni could preach off the cuff. “And that’s why I can go into any church – Catholic, Baptist, Religious Science – and praise God, because the Holy Spirit is in my life!” He went on to say more than I wanted to hear about obedience to God and the pastor.
Later he exhorted us to challenge the devil, because “I don’t mind if the devil’s on my track, as long as he’s not on my back – ’cause he doesn’t belong there. If you give the devil a ride, he’ll want to drive!” He called our attention to the story of the Gadarene swine, when Jesus begins the exorcism by demanding: “Who are you?” Which is precisely the question I ask of any unpleasant spirits I meet!
Earlier in the sermon, he redefined “brainwashing” as “being washed clean of pessimism!”
All this time I sat in a chair by the door, meek as a church mouse and conspicuous as a rat in a punch bowl. I was intimidated by the silken rope across the aisle. Even when it was unhooked shortly after I arrived, I didn’t move…
Until the minister invited us to come up and be blessed and prayed for. I was about third in line. The women in front of me were looking for help with finding housing for a large family, health problems, and getting a foster care license (the pastor recognized her as “a visionary” who “could be an inspirational speaker”).
I assumed he knew them all, intimately – but then it was my turn. As he anointed my hands with olive oil, he said, “I see things that you have lost are being restored to you” – which pretty well describes my feelings about Christianity at this point. “I see that you are a wise woman; a humble woman; a woman of God. Be exactly what you are. God’ll work it out. (Which addressed my concerns about being ensnared by obedience again.) Are you trying to move?” I remembered my husband’s desire to leave the city. “Yes, but it’s not on the front burner,” I said. He rubbed the olive oil into my palms and prayed: “Lord, break the shackles on our sister’s business.”
And all this without ever having spoken to me, or overheard me, before.
After me came a woman who was trying to get her son released from Juvenile Hall. The pastor was inspired to tell her what kind of candles to burn: “a red one – the red represents the blood of Jesus; a white one – the white is for purity; and a purple one – for power! The First Lady (his wife) will give you her phone number; call her and she’ll tell you how to dress them.” (Later in the service, the Queen Mother – Archbishop’s wife and pastor’s mother – interrupted her shouts of praise to tell this same woman how to arrange those candles.)
After this, the spirit of the service became more comfortable and informal. First-time visitors to the church where thanked sincerely for coming (and special note was taken of the fact that I had sat down among the congregation after I was prayed for). A final song was sung by the children (all the choir they have, apparently), a collection was taken (the church lined up to contribute, rather than passing the plates), and announcements were made: the Harvest Feast is next month – and it is, apparently, the same Fruit Feast in honor of Black Hawk that was mentioned in Jason Berry’s book. Black Hawk was not mentioned, but the First Lady explained to me: it’s a celebration of the “fruits of the spirit,” at which nine people get up and say a few words about one of them (“We’re looking for nine people,” she told me meaningfully) and the congregation is given blessed (literal) fruit to enjoy. It reminded me of the Unitarian Universalist flower communion, and I told her so. “Well! That’s something we could do here,” she said.