I was a brand new convert and church life was just starting to make sense. My involvement at First Baptist quickly led to church service. (If you’ve ever been a Baptist you know the drill. You got to serve!) It wasn’t my idea but it didn’t sound like a bad one. So I plugged in with the forth grade Sunday school class. Sunday school was held in the Bennet Building, named after the Bennet’s who funded it of course. I actually knew the Bennet family back when I was a little tyke. They also bankrolled my father’s campaign when he ran for congress. It was shortly after this unsuccessful attempt that he and my mom divorced. I never saw the Bennet’s after that but it was a privilege to serve in a building named in their honor. At least something they contributed toward proved to be a worthy investment.
My duties in the Sunday school room were quite simple. Essentially, I handed out pencils, paper, crayons, hymnals, Sunday school lessons, basically everything but cigarettes and matches. It was about as exciting as watching a hubcap rust but I remained true to my calling. The teacher could always count on me to show up promptly, keep quiet and fulfill my tasks no matter how tedious. I wouldn’t even giggle at the old geezers who strained their aged pipes to lead ancient hymns, even though they hit more sour notes than a box of Lemon Heads. The job was a no-brainer and I was uniquely qualified.
Everything was going hunky-dory until one day, without any warning my Christian service came to an abrupt end. I didn’t even see it coming. The director of the children’s department, a crotchety old sourpuss I’d never met before, intercepted me on my way to the classroom. He was a real booger. “What is this I hear about you and Jay?” Mr. Kelp snapped while looking down his nose. I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what he meant and wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. “What’s this I hear about you and Jay?” he barked again. I was not privy to the rumor mill he subscribed to and he had no idea what he was talking about. “I don’t know.” was the best I could come up with. “Is it true ,” Mr. Kelp sneered as if he had personally caught one of the FBI’s ten most wanted, “that you and Jay are homosexuals?”
I was totally horrified that anyone would make such an accusation about us. After all, I was sweet on Jay’s little sister. But I wasn’t going to admit that to Mr. Kelp. Certainly he would see a teenage crush as some kind of federal offense as well. “No!” I shot back as I felt blood rush to my humiliated face. “Well, that’s what I hear!” he retorted. I did all I could to defend my innocence but Mr. Kelp wasn’t interested in anything I had to say for myself. “That’s what folks are saying,” he insisted. “So, it’s best if you not serve in Sunday school class anymore.” Any thoughts I may have had of Mr. Kelp presenting me with a congratulatory gold watch quickly vanished. My private little, Salem witch trial ended with me getting my walking papers.
Sad to say, I was dismissed from ministry at the ripe old age of fifteen because gossip didn’t swing in my favor. Of all people, me! A kid!!! I was too naïve to even understand the gay lifestyle. But Mr. Kelp had convicted me and declared me guilty as charged. It didn’t feel good. I had been branded and the iron stung. Not that I would ever miss handing out pencils but, did it have to end like this? I never really expected to get the boot after three months of faithful service. Not on a false homo rap! This doesn’t do much for a kid’s self-esteem, and I didn’t have much to begin with. I was determined then and there to check out of church altogether. However, my mom advised me to persevere and prove my accusers wrong. Honestly, that was my only incentive for staying at the First Baptist Church for as long as I did. I’d make a point of greeting Mr. Kelp with a big smile when I saw him but he’d just scowl. My attempts to sway his opinion failed. Maybe it was my soprano voice that threw him off.
There is a horrifying twist to this whole tragic tale though. Mr. Kelp and his informants were half-right in their allegation. They were wrong about me entirely but their suspicions about Jay were valid. I would discover this much later, the hard way, the hurtful way. He was a predator and I became his next victim. Sad to say, I might have been spared one of life’s most painful tragedies had leadership taken a position to rescue me rather than condemn me. For this I resented the church and eventually turned my back on Christianity altogether. I dove headlong into a world which eagerly awaited hurt and troubled kids.
It is not my intent to blame Jay or Mr. Kelp for the decision I made to turn my back on Christ. Others have suffered worse fate and remained true to the Lord. Joseph was sold out by his brothers into slavery but not even that shook his faith. And though he wasn’t a slave by choice he resolved to be the best slave he could be so God would be honored. Later in life Joseph was falsely accused of rape and thrown into the slammer. Yet he was determined to honor God by being a model prisoner. So how is it that guys like Joseph press further into God when bad things happen and guys like a young Terry Michaels get pushed further back? Is it the difference between maturity and immaturity? Or is this the difference between someone who is truly saved and someone that never was? Honestly, I think trying to answer that question gets real sticky for us Christians. I’m not sure God wants us in a place where we are making that kind of call. Judging the salvation of another is not our place. What the young Terry Michaels needed was grace not a label he could be pigeonholed with. I think this is a safe posture either way you look at it. When in doubt the best response is always grace, simply share the love of Jesus.
My experience of false accusations and rejection in the church has helped me see the wisdom of always following the scriptures. We read in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, “Brothers and sisters, if a person gets trapped by wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should help that person turn away from doing wrong. Do it in a gentle way. At the same time watch yourself so that you also are not tempted.” (See Galatians 6:1) The principle here is restoration not condemnation. It is done in a spirit of humility not arrogance. Jesus also outlined the process of confronting a fallen brother when he said, “If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses.” I’ve often wondered what grief I may have been spared had Mr. Kelp followed these biblical precepts instead of following his human inclination to believe the worst.