I remember sitting as a guest at a friend’s church way back in the aughts. I had come right from work for Friday night Bible study, and immediately realized I was not going to fit in. Because of my jeans.
All of the other women, save for one, had on long skirts. Denim, cotton, polyester blend… skirts. Having been raised Pentecostal, I quickly sized up the room. No makeup, very little jewelry. Meanwhile, I was standing there in my dark blue jeans, matching jacket, silver ballet flats, and shimmery eyeshadow with black eyeliner. I even had on long, dangling earrings, and had honey highlights in my straightened, layered hair. I mine as well had on some bootleg Juicy Couture sweatpants with “Hottie” stamped on the bottom, because I knew I looked like a Jezebel to those people.
But I digress. What made that evening so memorable wasn’t my heathenish Rainbow outfit, but the pastor’s “sermon.” It pretty quickly devolved from reading a passage of Psalms to “God’s going to cause my enemies to drive off a bridge for being mean to me.” If you’re like, “Say what??” right now, good, because that’s how Li, Circa 2005, was totally feeling, too.
Said pastor, let’s call him Rev. Wrong, began by reading part of a chapter of Psalms. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which one, but it was similar in tone to Psalm 35. To be fair, David does write in that chapter, “may ruin overtake them by surprise,” the “them” being his enemies. Yet, Rev. Wrong didn’t give any context to the Scripture, instead launching into a diatribe about how we should pray for a sort of Yahweh-style vengeance to strike down our own enemies.
Don’t touch a hair on their heads, no, no, Rev. Wrong yelled despite his clip-on mic, pray for God (pronounced like GWAD) to be your Holy Hitman. He even gave an example of how “maybe a lying neighbor may end up in a car accident on a bridge and maybe that neighbor’s car would be pushed right through a guardrail.” I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped.
The congregation jumped to their feet, shouted “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” Well, almost all of the congregation. There was an elderly lady in the front who didn’t stand, but she did wave a hand above her head. There was another lady sitting, but she was rocking a sleeping baby on her chest. Even the lone other pants-wearing woman was up on her feet, saying, “Preach, Preacher.” Nope, I was the only person not in on the call and response.
Rev. Wrong was not feeling that, so he stepped gingerly down from the pulpit and walked right down the aisle and like a heat seeking missile locked on its target, stopped right at the end of my row. He then looked me right in my silver-lidded eyes and asked, “Where in the Bible does it say to pray good for your enemies?” I felt blood rush to my face upon seeing everyone turn to face me. I was embarrassed, as I hate being pushed into the spotlight, but I also felt anger, because I knew how horribly wrong he was. I was also mad that he knew I really couldn’t respond, not over the keyboardist’s little backing riffs and all those parishioners’ “Amens.” There had to be a good 50 people there, by the way.
I responded the only way I could, by staring right back, and remaining stone-faced. I didn’t smile or frown. I kept my hands on my lap and my legs crossed at the ankle. With no reaction, Rev. Wrong returned to the pulpit, and after service was dismissed, I grabbed my oversized slouchy purse, made sure my Nokia was still in there, said goodbye to my friend, and walked out, never returning.
I wasn’t wearing a skirt, had two earrings in each ear, and peach gloss on my lips. But I knew what Jesus commanded his followers to do when it came to enemies. In fact, I learned it in Sunday School:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48
And to that, I say, Amen, Amen, and Amen.