Austen Crowder

"You may not be one of ours..."

Filed By Austen Crowder | June 07, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living

Albert Mohler on Obama's GLBT Pride Month proclamation:

"The United States federal government, now by executive order, signed by the President of the United States, is declaring national pride in these lifestyles," he contends. "This is not mere toleration; it's not calling for legalization, an end to criminal sanctions. It's not calling even for something like civil's calling for pride."

Scripture, Mohler points out, does not allow Christians to be proud of sin.

Its not surprising that this man is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Furthermore, such press-release rhetoric would usually not be newsworthy enough to post on this site, since this kind of invective is prevalent and honestly not that interesting to read.

Well, it just so happens that I have a funny story about Baptists. It even has a moral!

In my younger and more venerable years (read: high school) I worked at TGI Friday's in downtown Indianapolis as a host. Overall, it was a great job: I chatted people up, made them comfortable, and worked through server politics to make sure everyone was happy and healthy. Pay was good, and hours were flexible; looking back, I was darn lucky to have a job as lucrative, cushy, and so well-fit to my personality.

One of the interesting aspects of working a restaurant in downtown Indianapolis - doubly so when the restaurant was attached to a hotel - was the convention scene. We saw everybody, from firemen to gamers, and it seemed like there was a new group prowling the streets every week. We had our favorites, we had our stories, and all in all convention weekends meant a huge boost in our incomes.

But no convention weekend was so universally feared, fretted, and out and out despised as the national Southern Baptist convention.

Preparing for the Southern Baptists was like preparing for war. People were angry, demanding, and generally unwilling to accept the fact that we had only four booths in the entire restaurant, oftentimes creating a separate wait list for the privilege of sitting in a booth. Tips were pittances accompanied by Chick Tracts. Goodbyes were angry stares and half-hearted "God Bless Yous." By the end of any one night I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, tired of hearing endless complaints, calls for the manager, and demands for refills. My back pocket was thick with Tracts and one dollar bills, the universal Southern Baptist sign for "screw you, ugly sinner."

They were so incredibly proud of their religion, free to talk of the great goods of the gospel, shaking hands and planting Chick Tracts on tables, but in the end they just came off as an ugly group. What God-loving, kind, gentle religion would be so downright rude to the hands that feed them? Frankly, after all the punishment I took as a host I was ready to write off the conference - and, by extension, the religious denomination - as a mean-spirited, terrible thing: an example of misplaced pride in a world of dissenting opinions.

It was this thought that was on my mind when the preachers came in.

They were a nice group, dressed to the nines in bright suits, all smiles and laughter. I literally ran into them as I was going outside to lock the door. I was tired; I had been running all day on a double shift and was ready to just pack up and go home. People were exceptionally mean-spirited, calling me all sorts of disparaging names, and had made a point to tell me just how bad my tip-out was going to be that night. Yet as I went to lock up these preachers were still smiling, laughing, and took the time to greet me with a jovial "hello." I informed them that our kitchen was closing in about five minutes, and even managed to smile for them out of professional pride.

"Oh, we understand. We just got out of a sermon."

"I know," I responded. "We got the big crowd a few minutes ago."

"I'm sure you're tired, sir" (What can I say? Trans-women have to start somewhere.) "But we're really hungry. We spent most of our night shaking hands and preaching. We'd really appreciate it if you could squeeze us in. If not, no big deal."

The tone caught me off guard; after an entire day of mean-spirited, nose-in-the-air, my-demands-rule-the-roost people, these preachers came to me as if I were an equal, a person just like themselves. These were the folks that were leading the flock, generating cold, hateful people who looked down on people like me. Yet it was their tone - their kind, jovial tone - that sent me inside to talk to the manager. I begged her to keep the kitchen open another five minutes. "They're preachers," I said. "Give 'em a break."

We did exactly that. I tell you, these people were incredibly thankful for the chance to eat. After I closed up shop they invited me up for a chat. We exchanged names, pasts, histories, et cetera. Not once did they tsk-tsk me about not being Baptist. Their reasoning resonates in my head to this very day: "You may not be one of ours, but you're a nice person and that counts for everything."

To this day, that chat with the preacher-men remains one of the best moments of my high school life. I had hated the institution of religion for years, and I finally found the whole method behind the madness. Religion, at its core, can have a positive effect on people's lives, so long as they aren't affected by holier-than-thou mentality. Those preachers made this point abundantly clear.

So the rub is this: if I can find something beautiful inside a Southern Baptist crowd, even though they may disagree with my way of life, why can't the Southern Baptist crowd find something beautiful about my way of life, despite my disagreeing with their position? One can be disapproving of sin and still find something wholesome about the person's life.

I sometimes think to myself what would have happened if those same preachers saw me now. Deep down, I know the answer; they would have addressed me as "ma'am," thanked me kindly for getting them seated, and invited me up for a chat. Their reasoning? "You may not be one of ours, but you're a nice person and that counts for everything."

If only more people were like those preachers!

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You always have to keep in mind, the flock doesn't resemble the shepherd.