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Reminder: My stories are always total fiction. Yet some real events and some real places may be used to add reality.

Copyright 2015, 2016 by Macout Mann. All rights reserved.

PASTOR JOE

by Macout Mann

XX

Joe informed Dr. Hancock, the senior pastor, what had happened, then rushed to the Jennings house.

Mr. and Mrs. Jennings were both distraught. Carson had told them what was going on, and his parents had counseled that he stand up to Hans. Now they blamed themselves for what had happened. Joe comforted them as best he could. He also blamed himself. What if he had gone to Montgomery Bell's headmaster earlier?

When the headmaster had called to tell Mr. Jennings of Carson's suicide, Mr. Jennings had told him about Hans' torment of his son and about Hans' threat. The headmaster, a Rhodes Scholar and sometime professor at The University of the South, was not one to take things lightly. Hans was to be expelled, and the police were already investigating possible criminal actions against him. The headmaster had also alerted his friend, the district attorney, suggesting that charges be filed if at all possible.

The Jennings also expressed their gratitude to Pastor Joe for working with Carson, and they asked that he officiate at Carson's funeral.

Joe was torn about possible approaches to Carson's funeral. He could face squarely the issue of Carson's sexuality and public attitudes toward homosexuals. Or he could preach a pabulum-laced sermon about how fine a young Christian Carson was.

He asked Ron for advice. "You'll be risking a firestorm, if you start taking up for queers," Ron told him.

He also talked to the Jennings. Carson's parents said that they would support anything that would help boys like Carson. Mr. Jennings had already set up a fund in Carson's name through PFLAG Nashville.

Because of the Jennings' prominence and the news coverage that Carson's death had received, the church auditorium was filled for the funeral. Ron and Bill were both there at Joe's request. The service began with an invocation by Dr. Hancock. Joe's sermon began with the usual words of comfort for the bereaved, a homage to the deceased, and an assurance that Carson was now in heaven in the arms of the Lord. Then the tone of his sermon changed.

"Now, I would like to confirm something that has been whispered about since Carson's death: Yes, Carson was a homosexual. That, however, certainly did not make him a proper target for the hateful bully who shamed him into taking his own life.

"And believe me, my brothers and sisters, Carson is not the only gay teenaged boy or girl in our congregation. But it was Carson who was taken advantage of by an older schoolmate. It was Carson who was threatened that if he didn't submit repeatedly to the other boy's sexual demands, that the whole school would be told that Carson was a homosexual. And when Carson stood up to the bully, and the bully made good on his threat, it was Carson who was unable to face the humiliation that he knew would result. He took his own life.

"I am convinced that our Lord will judge that Carson's tormentor violated the Sixth Commandment as surely as if he had wielded the knife himself."

"Carson had come to me after his persecutor first forced him into unwanted contact. I counselled him over several weeks. I urged him to share his problem with his parents. He did, and Mr. and Mrs. Jennings were most supportive. I was to meet with him the afternoon that he was killed.

"So a brilliant student, a talented athlete, and a wonderful Child of God is no longer with us.

"We can mourn over Carson's grave. But what else can we do? We can recognize that this is the Twenty-first Century, a century where science recognizes that homosexuality is not a sinful state chosen by perverts who engage in unspeakable acts. It is a state one is born into, whose genes cause them have different sexual attitudes than the majority of human beings. We can say aloud to one and all that boys and girls like Carson are also God's children, and we can fight to remove stigma from them. Let them come out of the closet and not be ashamed of who they are.

"Then the boys and girls like Carson, like others in our very own Westside Baptist Church, will never again be tempted to take their own lives because then a bully can no longer humiliate them."

After the service, Joe stood with Mr. and Mrs. Jennings. Not as many people as might be expected came to offer condolences to the Jennings. Joe thought that was because so many in the congregation didn't know them. Mrs. Jennings realized it was because they were disturbed by the sermon.

"But I'm glad," she added. "People need to be made to think."

"Well, you did it," Ron later told him. "These good Christian homophobes are going to be yelling for your ass."

And so it was. It started with Mrs. Clara Willis, the wife of an important member of the Board of Deacons. She had hardly left the church before she was calling all her friends. "I just came from that Jennings boy's funeral, and you know what that Pastor Joe said...?"

At the next deacons' meeting there was an uproar led by Willis. "We can't have a minister that supports homosexuality, especially one that works with our youth!"

The next day Joe was called into Dr. Hancock's office.

"Joe," he said. "I don't totally disagree with what you said at Carson Jennings' funeral; but if I had known, I would have told you not to. We're a denomination with congregational polity. What the congregation says, what the Board of Deacons says goes. And right now they are after your hide.

"You've done a good job here. Better than we had any right to expect. But if you expect to stay here, you have got to go before the Board of Deacons and apologize and ask their forgiveness. You can say that you were overcome by the death of a boy you were trying to work with, that you were influenced by his parents' feelings. I think they'll go along with that."

"I couldn't do that, pastor."

"Well, you should think about it. I'd like to see you stay. But there is a church I'm familiar with down in Birmingham that's looking for a pastor, though. Foster Memorial. It's in Edgewood. Petty good sized congregation. Their deacons have asked me for a recommendation. I would be willing to recommend you, and I think they would react favorably. I know that you would make as good an impression on them as you did on us. That's something else you might consider. But I need to know what you want to do in the next few days."

"You were right," Joe told Ron. "I'm about to get canned." He went over his conversation with Dr. Hancock, ending by stating that he still couldn't see how he could repudiate what he had said in his sermon. "So I guess I'll have to try to get the job in Birmingham."

"I haven't told you," Ron said, "but I have become a postulant for the Episcopal diaconate.* I'll go before the Board of Examining Chaplains and hopefully be ordained sometime next year. I'll remain on the faculty at Vanderbilt, but will probably assist at the cathedral.

"I've spoken to the bishop about you. He knows you're gay, and that doesn't bother him. I can see you becoming a priest. You'd make a damned good one. It won't be easy. We're not just like Baptists, but more formal in our worship. There are many theological differences. Big differences. What the nature of the Church is. The role of sacraments in the life of the believer. But you could be given lay employment while you are being trained. You wouldn't have to go back to seminary. I'd like to set up an appointment with the bishop for you."

They spoke for hours. Joe recounted his distaste, when he had gone to St. George's. Ron countered that was just one experience. That he knew Joe as well as Joe knew himself, and he felt that Joe really saw religion the way he did. Joe finally said he had to have time to think.

Joe kept a bottle of Jack Daniels at his apartment for Bill and Ron. He seldom joined them, but now he poured himself a stiff drink while he thought over his options.

He knew if he responded to Ron's offer, he would still have to be circumspect about his being gay, but he no longer would have to hide in the closet. Yet he would be abandoning many of the understandings that had guided his life for almost thirty years. Communion would no longer be only a memorial event, it would become a means of grace. He would have to get used to prayers read out of a book, rather than being spontaneous outpourings from his soul.

If he was successful in becoming the pastor of Foster Memorial, it would be a huge step up in his career. He would be a senior pastor. He would head a metropolitan congregation. But what would happen to his sex life? In a new city with greater responsibilities, he might need to become celibate. He'd never had the strength to do that in the past.

And yes, he could reconsider. He was sure if he said he had erred in "supporting the homosexual lifestyle," if that is what he had done really, things could remain as they are. But there would always be those who looked down on him as a queer lover, wouldn't there?

He pondered and pondered.

Finally he picked up his phone and dialed the number that would seal his fate.

THE END

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*In liturgical churches a deacon is the lowest of the three orders of clergy: deacon, priest, and bishop.

This is my second story to leave the reader with a question. Who is Joe calling and what will his choice be? I must say that I don't know. So I'd appreciate your letting me know what you think. Does he call Ron and ask for an appointment with his bishop? Does he call Dr. Hancock and select Birmingham, or does he choose to go before the Board of Deacons and ask for forgiveness? I will answer all your emails. Please write me at macoutmann@yahoo.com.