It would be the last sermon we would ever endure as members of the Baptist Taliban.
We hadn’t planned for it to be, even though by that time, we were painfully aware that our leaving was inevitable. It was just a matter of how and when. My husband already had several discussions with The Preacher about the fact. Needless to say, he wasn’t accepting it with grace.
We had already survived years of raging sermons, encroaching regulations, crippling isolation, unreasonable expectations, numerous inter-church conflicts, interference of family decisions, the humiliating, soul-raping shunning of some of our young people including two of my daughters and the demise of the dreams we had for our family. There was not much more that we felt we had left to lose, so what had to follow according to the song….was freedom.
Still, we intended to stay until we knew the time was right.
The air about our two families was thick with tension and the discomfort of that reality was almost more than I could bear. I felt as if we were all anticipating an eminent death, while still having to perform as we always had. We would continue to fulfill those roles, though mechanically, until someone would step up to replace us.
We had not set any specific date for our departure. We did not have detailed plans. We only knew that we would be leaving and that we would be going to help a very small church with a discouraged pastor in a neighboring town. That was all. Every function, every activity, every church service were events to be endured and there was nothing left that could help us want to stay. But we wouldn’t go until the time was right.
That night—we came to know without a doubt—the time would never be more right.
The sermon he preached that night, we would forever remember as, *The Panty Sermon*.
Everyone by then came to church expecting to be yelled at, scolded and scalped. Then there were the special remarks he frequently threw in for shock value as an added feature. This was just a given. But the *Panty Sermon*? It was in a class all by itself—the shock sermon among all shock sermons.
I was sitting with my oldest daughter, and my husband was sitting on the front row as he always did. I don’t remember his text, or what the sermon was actually about since, as was my usual procedure, I found a way to tune him out. Then he started telling a story that caught my attention.
It was a short little story of how one of the ladies came to him and told him that she had overheard a couple of the older girls talking in the bathroom. One said something to the other about how difficult it was to wear skirts and keep the panty-lines from showing through (we leading ladies of the church were continually stressing the immodesty of panty lines). The other girl commented that it wasn’t a problem for her……she just didn’t wear any.
Already, I am wondering if I was hearing him right. Did he really just tell the whole church, combined sexes—children and all—this story of two girls having a private conversation in the girls’ bathroom about their underwear???
After pausing for a moment to delight in the shocked and awed expressions, he went on telling how that someone gave him notes that the young people had been passing during the church services. In the notes there were comments made about a ‘panty club’. (I believe it was referring to a promotion by a department store where one could buy so many panties and get more for free or for a discount). Of course, he would automatically assume there was perversion involved since he had a tendency to always jump to the worst possible conclusion. I don’t think it ever occurred to him to give the benefit of the doubt until all the facts were in. If it looked shady to him, it had to be shady, especially if it involved teens.
He continued his frenzied diatribe against the young people, bawling them out about their ungodly attitudes and rebellious behavior so typical of the sermons he had been preaching for years, but this time adding more heat. With eyes flaming red, face contorted in anger and arms flailing wildly, he marched down from his pulpit putting himself on our level….for added effect.
Once there, on eye level with the congregation, he made the most disturbing accusation he had ever made from the pulpit. “YOU ALL ARE NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF %#@&$+!!! (WHORES??) Well, you know what you are…….” Then, he rebuked their fathers saying, “I have to do this because YOU WON’T!!!”
The whole place was frozen in silence. He got his desired effect.
Traumatized, I walked straight to the car. At least, I think that is what I did. I don’t really remember much until we arrived at McDonald’s. I am not even sure why we went to McDonald’s of all places, but I suspect that was all that was open since we never got out of church before everything else was closed. It was there that we realized that we could never go back…..and I wept over it for the first time.
The burqa that covered my mind and my heart was coming off—one piece at a time. This was just the first piece. It would take years before I could shed the whole garment.
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Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 34 years.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce