While my kids were wandering through the aisles of the market, I was leaning against the wall inside a parking lot where I could enjoy a cigar away from the nasty looks of young, overprotective moms. The guy selling carriage rides through the town’s historic center was 10 feet away. He sneered derisively and nodded toward the preacher, shaking his head as he remarked that he had to sit all day and listen to the yelling. He occasionally tossed back a loud retort, and the multitudes would enjoy the comic relief from the unending verbal pestilence.
On this day before Easter and the miracle of the resurrection that is celebrated by Christians worldwide, the Charleston charlatan was stuck on the sin of homosexuality.
“Marriage is between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” he yelled.
“Noooooot Adam and Steeeeve,” he repeated in a booming drawl.
That rigid interpretation of sinful behavior and its distasteful delivery was still in my head Easter morning. It was just past sunrise, and I was at a coffee shop with Internet access trying to get some work done. The only seat left was next to the cream station, so I had to listen to small talk when I couldn’t find the concentration to tune it out. A tall, lean guy who looked like he could run 20 miles on any given day was getting a post-workout cup o’ joe. He was mid-40s. A woman, maybe in early 70s, moved up beside him to prep her coffee. She was Easter-dressed — bonnet, church clothes, old-style silver clasped pocket book hanging from her forearm — obviously either on her way to worship or on her way home from a sunrise service. They were acquainted, it seemed, maybe neighbors or longtime family friends.
“Looks like we’ve been worshipping in different places this morning,” the guy joked, glancing down at his workout clothes.
“Well, as long as you worship somewhere, that’s what’s important,” she shot back, shaking her head but smiling as she stirred her coffee. She seemed unhappy with his remark but told him so like a loving grandmother would. It was the opposite delivery of the street preacher.
“Yes ma’am, that’s right,” he said, picking up his coffee and heading out the door.
I turned back to my computer, thoughts swirling about religion and how we all embrace it differently. I remembered the article in last week’s Smoky Mountain News about Ivan Abrahams, the South African preacher who is the leader of the World Methodist Council. His thoughts on the importance of churches being inclusive had stuck in my mind when I first read it.
Abrahams heads an organization that represents millions of Methodist Christians around the world, and in reporter Andrew Kasper’s piece he discussed the different attitudes toward homosexuality found in the different Methodist denominations:
From his desk in Lake Junaluska, Abrahams has already noticed a glaring difference between the United Methodist Church, the denomination that predominates in the United States, and the Methodist churches in South Africa. Although both are part of the same worldwide Methodist association, in the United States, homosexuality is considered at odds with the religion, and in South Africa, it is accepted.
“What a person’s sexual preference is, is up to them,” Abrahams said. “I believe passionately that the church needs to be an inclusive organization.”
However, Abrahams also said he respects the local doctrine and knows from experience that change within society, and within the Methodist church, can take time to materialize.
Abrahams’ vision of an “inclusive” church probably has room for the street preacher, the runner who skipped Easter services and the woman who chastised him. Societies and people are different, and tolerance is a virtue.
I packed up my stuff and headed back to our place. As is my vacation habit, I was soon surrounded once again by the fragrant smell of cigar smoke. I wasn’t anywhere near that street preacher, but I could hear him in my head and tried not to think too badly of him. And I moved well out of the way when the young mothers steered their strollers and children too close to the cigar I was enjoying.