By Joetta Currie
I was twelve years old living an ordinary, boring life, trying to get above average grades in school, hang with my friends and stay off my mom and dad’s radar. It was working–not great, but working.
Then I became the target of a sober, fist pounding, secret group within a large, other-worldly organization whose members walked among us, free to exercise their will.
The group was an ad hoc committee of my church. A few select members of the congregation dedicated to saving the souls of the un-baptized youth. They thought twelve was much too old not to be a bona fide Christian. They snuck up on me after Sunday school, wrapped their flabby, perfumed arms around me and whispered in my ear.
“Jesus wants you for a Sunbeam.”
Or, “The way of the cross leads home.”
And my least favorite, “You must be washed in the blood of the lamb.”
I must have been absent that Sunday, because I wasn’t even sure what that meant.
I WASN”T READY.
I didn’t care how old I was, I had questions. Questions that had not been answered. NO, wait, not unanswered–ignored, brushed off and belittled.
“We are not supposed to question God’s ways,” they said.
“Shame on you for asking such a thing,” they said.
“You must have faith,” they said.
I had faith. I believed that God was good. Period. One big, fat, shining ball of goodness. God was every good thought, every good deed, idea, act, intention and all things that were kind and caring in this world. I believed that if I was good and encouraged goodness in others (I didn’t always of course, I was a kid.) that when my time came to die I would end up in a peaceful state. That was enough for me.
But I needed answers if I was going to buy all the rhetoric and fanfare of the Baptist Church, or any “church,” I genuinely wanted to understand a few important things like: How exactly did Jesus walk on water and later turn it into wine? How did he bring a guy back from the dead? How did he touch somebody and cure leprosy? How was Mary a virgin? And the big one…how did he rise up from the dead? Were these literal things or religious symbology?
My dad was a biology teacher, my mom a nurse. I had facts that were totally incongruent with those so called miracles and NOBODY at church would help me out. I’m sorry, but “just have faith” didn’t cut it. Frankly, it made me very suspicious. I thought if God was what they said, why did he need cheap parlor tricks to make people believe?
The onslaught of hand holding and praying never let up. The “Pity her poor soul” look in their eyes made me miserable. But I couldn’t do it, if I didn’t believe in it. I figured if anything made God mad it was faking something so important.
My best friend, Bonnie went to the same church and she had already done it. She said it was no big deal. Just go up to the preacher at the end of service and tell him you want to be saved, and then your parents will buy you a new dress so you can be baptized in church the next Sunday—in cold water—in front of everybody—and then you get to eat cake. I’ve always been more of a pie person myself so the confectionary aspect didn’t appeal to me.
The committee didn’t let up. I dreaded going to church because I knew I would be singled out. If I fell on the playground and skinned my knees or was passed over for a part in the Easter play, they told me it probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been saved. Once after we sang the Jesus Loves Me song, my Sunday school teacher whispered in my ear, “He loves you too, but not as much as all the other girls and boys.”
I still feel the punch in my gut when I think about it.
On Monday nights I went to Bonnie’s house to watch The Monkees (she had a color TV.) Her mom, a sweet, well-meaning woman, tried to help put me on the path of righteousness.
“Please don’t talk to me about Jesus in front of Davy Jones. I’m in the middle of a very different, emotional experience right now.“
I tried asking God to get these people off my back until I figured some things out. I prayed that I would get to go to summer camp and get some relief. That backfired, big time.
Bonnie, my older sister Debbie and I got to spend a week at church camp in the beautiful hills of Kentucky. We stayed in cabins, slept in bunk beds and got to take all kinds of fun classes. I enrolled in art, archery, canoeing and horseback riding. I didn’t mind a couple of hours of Bible study in the morning. I enjoyed learning the Beatitudes, verses from Psalms and The New Testament. We had recitation competitions everyday. I won some, Debbie and Bonnie won more, but it was a great time. Camp was fun. The food was good, we had campfires and singalongs at night. Our counselors were college students from a nearby Baptist Seminary. The guys were cute (we all had crushes), the girls like big sisters. I finally felt the pressure of Christendom ascend from my shoulders.
Until mid week when, once again, I was singled out for not being baptized. My home church committee had given a heads up to the camp counselors. They swooped in with more hand holding, prayers for guidance and veiled threats of eternal damnation. I think they secretly took bets on who would win me over for Jesus.
The last night was the worst. There was a rallying ceremony at dusk when every girl was given a little cardboard boat with a candle. We all gathered at the lake, lit the candles in our boat and set them sail. It was a beautiful and symbolic event. We were sending the Light of the Jesus out into the world. If yours sunk too soon, you did not carry the light in your heart.
I swear they put a hole in my boat. It was one of the first to sink. The counselors gathered EVERYONE around me to sing and pray. I was sick.
After the lake, we all went to the amphitheater for a final benediction. The camp minister made his final call for sinners to come forward. Everybody was looking at me.
Debbie was getting mad at the way I was being treated and kept whispering,
“Don’t do it, Jo, don’t do it if you don’t want to.”
But I caved. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went down front and did what was expected of me. It was the most hypocritical thing I have ever done. The fact that everyone was so proud and happy for me, especially after I got back home, was heart wrenching.
I got a new dress, was dunked in the cold water, ate the cake and the church committee moved on to saving the next wayward soul. They completely left me alone after that.They no longer needed to concern themselves with me since there was no un-baptized twelve year old muddying up their congregation.
My relationship with God hadn’t changed but I no longer had faith in my church. The more I examined various religions, the less I felt connected to any of them.
I no longer asked questions. I figured out the miracle issues on my own and over the years have resolved most of my doubts and fears by believing in the one simple concept that I knew all along.
God is good. Period.
Writing about my early experience in the Baptist church may make me seem resentful. I am not. Nor were there hurtful intentions by the committee. I’m sure they had a graceful heart and meant only the best in doing what their faith led them to do. I have many fond memories of my church, and friends with whom I still maintain contact. I am a better person because of the fellowship, albeit struggle, that led me to the place I am in today-solid in my belief that God is good.