Last week, someone who hardly ever shows up on my Facebook newsfeed actually DID, and it was Mark McKeel’s photo that caught my eye. Not more than a mile from my own home, along Highway 707 in the rural Burgess-Socastee area outside Myrtle Beach, the Socastee Free Will Baptist Church posted the message you see on the accompanying photo. At first, I thought maybe it was an old photo from years ago, just resurfacing. Then I actually drove by the church later that day, and – to my shock – saw the message was, in fact, current.
It occurred to me I HAD to attend this church. First, I cannot express enough how much I loathe attending a church I’m not familiar with, as it is. Secondly, walking into what could very well have been a lion’s den of hate and defiance and venom (at least that’s what ran through my mind leading up to actually going) had my better half (Ethan) and I anxious.
Because Ethan couldn’t be bothered to awake before 1pm Sunday (the bum), we decided we would attend the 6pm service. We walked in, took our seats, were warmly greeted by a half dozen or so congregants and the church’s pastor, himself, Pastor Darren Squires.
Through most of the service, the topic on their marquee wasn’t a topic in the service; until (I’m guessing an understudy-in-training) Thomas weaved his sermon into that realm. In all fairness, he’s new to the “calling,” so it can be understood that his sermon lacked a little focus and sort of wandered at times, and so I sort of lost focus, myself, and cannot actually recall how he eventually got to the message that drew us in.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how or when I was going to speak up; as the service wore on, I opted to wait for a one-on-one with Pastor Squires, and he obliged us – for three hours I might add – and we engaged in quite the exchange of ideology on the matter.
Squires is no newcomer to this conversation, either, and having gotten wind of the attention his sign had gotten on my Facebook timeline before our attending, he was well-prepared to deflect the standard pro-gay talking points. Seems Jesus hit the “reset” button on a lot of the absurd “abominations” listed in Leviticus (shellfish, for example) so those bullets were immediately taken out of our chamber.
However (and I stood my ground on this), Pastor Squires had zero actual quotes from Jesus’ lips when it came to homosexuality. A female congregant did try to interject with some scripture she’d found but it actually included the word “homosexual,” and that word itself didn’t exist prior to – at the earliest – the 1860s. It’d be like saying Jesus would approve of space shuttle missions because he loves rocket-propulsion. it simply didn’t exist, then. Then the same young woman (who I believe we’d learned earlier in the service is married) brought up sodomy; believe it or not, Pastor Squires blew that one off himself (pardon the pun…I literally typed it THEN caught the correlation) and even went so far as to say he didn’t care if consenting married couples introduced jackhammers into the bedroom, so long as they were married. When we asked the woman if that meant she and her spouse were to never partake in the legal definition of “sodomy,” her silence was deafening.
This actually went on and on and on, for three hours, with a few sidebar conversations that I diffused a few times because I hate getting off-topic (and our stomachs were rumbling from hunger). Here’s what we learned: the message on the sign isn’t new to that church or that sign itself. They’ve apparently garnered (some) local and national press attention from posting the message before (I was unaware) and Pastor Squires admits he posts the message to get attention. It’s his (and his congregants, too) belief that the entire Bible is “the word of God” (despite the fact that there are dozens of contradictions in the New Testament alone, and that all those Leviticus “abominations” apparently get wiped out by Jesus somewhere later in the Bible). Despite the contradictions and despite the wiping out of “old law” (aka ‘Leviticus’), somehow something Peter said and something in 2nd Timothy IS “Jesus’ word.”
What else is Jesus’ word?
Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.“
Seems pretty simple to me, and I’m a non-believer. However Ethan and I “learned” that god has hate (a human emotion, and one of our worst, if you ask me) and because God hates defying his will (the entire Bible being his will, contradictions and “reset buttons” be damned), his wrath can (and will, says Pastor Squires) rain down on sinners.
All in all, the conversation remained spirited and lively but didn’t devolve into raised voices, pointing of fingers or exploding tempers. We did it; we walked into the pit of the enemy and walked out having given our two cents. I asked Ethan on the way out “do you feel like we accomplished anything?” His answer? “No; it was like a Facebook fight.”
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall after we left, though. Because I know this; neither side gave any ground, and I never got that “a-ha” quote I kept asking for from Jesus, which has to have frustrated the pastor (he literally fanned himself with his coat and complained of being quite warm in the room that was fairly chilly in temperature most of the night) and those who stayed behind to show support for him (all but two of whom just sat there with nothing to add – including the understudy minister Thomas). I wouldn’t say anybody “won” this debate, but I know we left them with a better understanding of ourselves, if nothing else.
The following day (today), Pastor Squires messaged me on Facebook, inquiring “do you wanna accept my Friendship, and if not then I can Block you or you me so we will not Offend you or your Friends who hold to your World View….”
“Why would I accept the friend request of someone who sees me in the light you do, Mr. Squires? I’ve no need to block you (if you choose to block me, so be it; it’s a free country and you’re free to do as you with on your account).
I have no “world view.” It’s just called “acceptance,” pastor. Acceptance that men who wrote a collection of books in an era barely evolved from our living in caves couldn’t POSSIBLY understand the complexities of human sexuality, let alone things like proper sanitation and whether the world was flat or spherical (“round” is two dimensional, by the way).
Today I and millions more celebrate the coming out of the nation’s first major male athlete. There’ll be no raining on our parade today, sir.
I didn’t come to your service to make friends; I came to get a sense of what type of congregation and church leadership finds your display last week to be in good taste. I got the sense I sought. Ethan and I both appreciate the gracious hospitality we experienced, both before and after your service. We appreciate the time spent dialoguing with us, as well. That’s that.
And yes, anyone who thinks I’m somehow sub-human or that the bond I share with my better half is somehow perverse surely cannot be, in the truest and most literal sense, a “friend” to me. Certainly you’d understand that.”
He didn’t; and the conversation continued on for a couple hours on Facebook, but suffice to say, we may understand each other better, but that does not make us “friends.” I know I won’ t be changing my mind anytime soon (read: ever) but I “never say never” with fundamentalist Christians. It wasn’t that long ago that Exodus International was pushing their conversion therapy; last summer they admitted it doesn’t work. Not that medical science wasn’t already aware.
What I came away knowing better than I knew before? That there are these small pockets, still, of people that at least try to make every life decision based solely on what’s in the King James’ version of the Bible; that there is (eery, if you ask me) a lot of distrust in public school teachings, most notably anything in the realm of science. Oh, and that Job apparently had a pet (or two) dinosaur. Pat Robertson disagrees, but that’s another debate for another ambush at a local church.