What the Holy Hell?!

When should you “know better”? How old is too old to lose innocence? I’ve been thinking about these things and the coercion that I feel was involved with the young men who were involved with Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Mostly because I know that those four young men are not the only ones harmed in this manner on a daily basis.

The summer after my freshman year in college my mother thought it would a great idea for me to volunteer at our church, helping out in the office. Since she’d already said I would, what choice did I have? I’d pledged my sorority during the spring of that year and the Sr. Pastor was a member of our brother fraternity. He was delighted with my neophyte self! We also had two junior pastors who were pledging grad chapter of his fraternity. Rev. Sr. took great delight in having my “little brothers” greet me and do little tasks. One of them took his pledging quite seriously; let’s call him Rev. Jr. – the youth minister. He was handsome and not too much older than me, funny and liked to flirt (in a church appropriate way of course). I didn’t take it too seriously but I was flattered and assumed his attention meant he was …interested in me. As a person.

We were in an office on the 2nd floor of the church that had a long countertop with selves above it. He asked me to sit on the countertop and talk to him. So we talked about school, being in the sorority, dating. I was sitting on the counter and he stood up, right in front of me, leaning on my knees. So I sat up straighter. In the movies, this is where the guy kisses the girl. But he didn’t kiss me. He moved my knees apart and grabbed my hips, pulling me forward.

 “What if your boyfriend did this? How would you react?”

I couldn’t move because there were cabinets behind me so I was stuck between him and wooden doors. I didn’t know how to answer his question or where to put my hands. I guess he read the confusion on my face, because he laughed as he let go and took a step back.

“I’m just looking out for you, little Big Sister… letting you know what men think about when they see you. You better get back down to the office.”

And so I was dismissed. And utterly confused. After that he took every opportunity to touch me when he saw me. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t alone with him upstairs anymore but he managed a hug or a squeeze quite frequently. I‘d had one boyfriend in high school, was a nerd to my heart (with great clothes, shoutout to my shopaholic mom) so my experience with dating and men was quite limited. I read a lot into the attention that was paid to me so when he said he wanted to take me to lunch for my birthday of course I accepted.

There was a Red Lobster near the church so we decided to go there. He wanted to stop by his apartment first, to get something. I didn’t want to be trapped there (ha!) so I followed in my car. We got there, he ran in then came right back out.

“Can you come in for a  second? It’s gonna take a minute to do what I need to do but we’ll still have time for lunch”

So I followed him in. He asked me to have a seat, went down the hall and was back a few minutes later. With champagne glasses in one hand and a bottle of something. Did I mention that this was my 18th birthday?

“Surprise! I thought we’d start celebrating here, and then get something to eat later”

“Oh, well…” and I didn’t know what to say. So I reached for the glass that was being offered and got pulled into a hug.

“Happy birthday to you…happy birthday to you…Happy birthday Dear Andrea…Happy birthday to you”, as sung in my ear.

“Let me pour you some bubbly”

I guess I looked at my watch one time too many, or sat too stiffly on the couch. At some point it became apparent that I wasn’t going to lunch and he wasn’t getting what he’d anticipated either. I declined the second glass and made a hasty exit. Now my mind was occupied with going back to work (at the church!) with alcohol on my breath and whether I would still smell like it by the time I saw my mom.

So nothing terrible happened, thankfully. Just some confusion, a little anger, mixed with the hopes of an 18 year old girl thinking she’d being pursued by a handsome older man. I never told anyone about it, went back to work that day, then school later that month. I skipped church for a few years (maybe a decade, don’t judge). But imagine that my relationship had become physical. Imagine that I’d known Rev. Jr. for more than a few months, shared intimate talks of hopes and dreams, fears and wishes. Imagine that he told me how special and chosen I was, showed his concern and support by listening and buying gifts…how devastating would it have been to learn that I was disposable?

This is what I thought of when I saw the young man talking about taking showers for hours, never being able to forget the scent of Long’s cologne. How alone and confused and heartbroken he must have been. Just as I’m confident that others knew of Long’s activities, I’m sure Rev. Jr. showed his “special interest” to other girls. What do you do as a teenager or young adult, charged with making your own decisions, being mature…when those you respect and admire give you terrible choices?

I owe my Twitter BFF @aaw1976 another round of drinks for her editing help 🙂

5 thoughts on “What the Holy Hell?!

  1. It is very interesting that you frame this around the issue of choice. I think your absolutely right that choices around sex, even as an adult, can be very difficult. I am subconsciously planning the kind of conversations that I will have with my children around sex. One thing that I plan to talk to them about is masturbation. I honestly feel like if I always had a vibrator, I would have made some very different choices about some sexual partners. These are tough conversations to have because these are suppossed to be private conversations. I for one felt horrified by your incident on the table with the man from your congregation. It seems like you felt different?

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  2. Thanks for reading & commenting.

    Horrifed came in retrospect; at the time I took it as attraction.

    Talking to kids about sex and masturbation is very important and I agree with you that having better consciousness about sexuality, intimacy and self satisfaction will prove beneficial.

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  3. I’ve had discussions about these kinds of issues with my students. The thing is, and perhaps men/boys don’t get this, but “Yes! I want you to kiss me!” or “Yes! I want to flirt with you!”can be miles away from “Yes! Grope me!” or “Yes! Undress me!” And when you have to decide in seconds exactly which one you’re up for, while someone is in the process of kissing or groping or hugging or whatever, well, it gets confusing. Even a small imbalance in power can make decisions feel like they are out of your hands. I’ve also been in a space that was too intimate with a man who was in some slight authority–I’m sure someone would have blamed my “poor” decision to go with him if he had assaulted me. I also just watched the Tyler Perry interview and I’m haunted by the way boundaries are violated so freely, especially in church. It’s sickening.

    Tanji, I’ve thought many times that “teaching” masterbation would address lots of sexuality issues, and I’m guessing that it would help young people maintain some control over their bodies. I hope you are still blogging when you have those conversations! I will need a primer!

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  4. I too was horrified by the incident on the counter, but could imagine as a teenager or young adult having a mixed feeling of thrill that this attractive man thinks of me in this way, even if I know it’s inappropriate, even if I wished he’d go about it a different way. And I remember being a teen and not knowing that I had a right to demand that men/boys approach me in a way that made me feel safe, and not on the edge. And of course, you want to believe that in church, where you are supposed to be safe not only physically but spiritually, a safety beyond even understanding, that something like this wouldn’t happen. I’m bringing my children to church now, “raising” them in church, and its so sad to me that I cannot just trust that my daughter will be safe with men in church. To have used God’s good name to prey on the innocent…I know I shouldn’t say it, but I hope (Jesus help me!) there really is a special place in hell for them.

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