I went to that particular church one Sunday morning to listen to the gospel music they played there. Sometimes that meant also staying for the sermon, but I didn’t mind. The emotional music, the power and the energy were worth it.
After the choir had performed two or three pieces, the preacher stepped up to the pulpit and began preaching, his voice reaching to a fever pitch as he worked his way into his subject. Even at that volume, I was able to tune him out, him and his God who lost his temper, was jealous and judgmental and blessed only those who tithed.
I had been drifting in and out of attention for a while when I realized what the preacher was ranting about:
Oh my God, this is weird! Pornography? Did he know? And was my definition of it different than his? Still, since he thought it was so-o-o bad and since I liked it so-o-o much, I felt kind of naked sitting there in the pew right in front of him.
“Pornography is the root of all evil and the destroyer of society,” the preacher ranted. “It’s the devil himself!” he lambasted, pointing the sword of his righteous finger at the floorboards under the pulpit, where we all knew the devil lived.
“Those who engage in pornography are doing the work of”—pausing, spelling it out—the D. E. V. I. L!
By the time he got to this point, the preacher was quivering with rage and the sheer effort it took to shout as high as the high heavens.
“D. E. V. I. L,” he spelled again. Just in case somebody missed it.
I began to imagine a scene in which I was found out. The pastor picked up my phone and in it found damning evidence for all the world to see. He put it on the floor and pointed to it in the same way he pointed to the floorboards under the pulpit. The devil had moved into my phone.
While I was imagining the scene, I was also surprised at how the shame of it, even the imagined shame of it, made my skin crawl.
“Magazines! Videos! Movies! Shame on you!”
On and on the preacher went, delineating all the horrible forms pornography took and all the horrible diseases it caused and all the horrible things God would do to all the horrible people who liked it.
That’s when I checked out completely from what he was saying and checked in with somebody else: with my “Self”—the “Self” I relate to as my personal god.
“Is pornography the D.E.V.I.L?” I asked my Self. “Does God punish the pornographer?”
Soon enough I realized these were not even the right questions to be asking. These were questions based on the preacher’s paradigm, his black-and-white right-and-wrong world, his black-and-white right-and-wrong God.
I felt my emotional/spiritual ship peel away and head toward the open seas, leaving the preacher on the shore.
I sat there and thought about shame and the role it played in socializing humans. I thought of the roots of shame and how they went so deep that the damage they wrought weakened the foundations of even the strongest trees.
“You’ve got to hide those breasts of yours.” “Shame on you.” “You should be ashamed of yourself.” My mother used shame as the bedrock of her disciplinary approach. I could still see her own righteous finger wagging itself at shameful little me. I know now that this was her way of “helping” me to be accepted and to fit in. She didn’t shame me to shame me; she shamed me because she was concerned about me and loved me. Her sublime naiveté was almost laughable when I thought about it and how much damage it caused.
Oddly enough, her approach was the same as the preacher’s that day at church. Except the preacher backed up his shame with the “Word of God.” My mother just backed up her shame with, well, more shame. She didn’t have a big repertoire.
I had to work long and hard to rid myself of the bitter crop my mother’s seeds of shame grew in me, and it was only through years of soul-searching that I was able to understand that her method of child-rearing was actually a form of love: the only form she knew.
I looked up at the pulpit. The preacher was wiping his sweaty brow with a big white handkerchief. Was he as worked up as he was because, for him too, this was a form of love? Could I look at him and accept that his words were attempts to help?Could I not resent him for using the same methods as my mother did? My teachers did? The religion of my childhood did?
I must admit that going to church, while not edifying in itself, can force me to collect my thoughts and put my attitudes into perspective. Sometimes I can gain from the preaching in spite of it. So, I go and sit, listening to the music raise the energy, to the preacher condemn pornographers, and to the church amen and hallelujah their response.
I sit knowing I am a wife, a thinker, a believer and a person who likes black gospel music and pornography—all at the same time.
And that that’s no shame.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Google images for reuse