In Chapter 3, bereaved former pastor Travis and young current pastor Kyle go to a local ministerial meeting. It’s Kyle’s first time, which provides a convenient device for Travis to introduce the other pastors.
Kyle picked me up a little before ten the next morning and we rode together. In a town the size of Antioch there isn’t much time to discuss anything while on the way to somewhere, so I found myself talking fast.
“Morgan Elliot’s the only female minister. She used to copastor the Methodist church with her husband, Gabe, but he was killed in a car wreck three years ago. Nice gal. I wouldn’t call her a liberal, but she’s definitely not a fundamentalist either.”
Remember Morgan. She’s going to be important later. Also, let’s take a moment be completely unsurprised that a female pastor is “not a fundamentalist.” Gee gosh willakins, Travis, I wonder why that is?
“Paul Daley’s a kidder, and he likes being Episcopalian as much as you like being Pentecostal. He’d genuflect at a light pole if it had a cross piece on it.
Al Vendetti is as Catholic as the Pope himself. His father was Catholic, his father’s father was Catholic, his oldest sister is a nun in Philadelphia. I got into a religious argument with him once and he finished it in Latin. But listen, you respect him and he’ll respect you.”
Peretti is generally really good with characters, but he does lean on stereotypes from time to time. Every pastor at this meeting is a caricature of mainline catholic and protestant clergy as they’re perceived by conservative evangelical Christians.
Peretti definitely knows his audience, and they’re not Presbyterian. Reformed Presbyterian, maybe, but not mainline.
“Bob Fisher’s Southern Baptist, so he’s sound and solid. Just don’t get into a doctrinal dispute with him. He doesn’t like being disagreed with.”
Note that Bob is a jerk, but he’s a “sound and solid” Southern Baptist, so he gets a pass.
Once they arrive at the meeting, an intimidating character named Armond Harrison (remember him too, he’ll also be important later) challenges Travis’ right to be there, since he’s no longer an active minister. He seems to be the only one who has a problem with it, and the meeting continues.
They start talking about the strange things that are happening around town. Multiple people have seen “angels” and visitors from out of town are camping out at the Catholic church hoping to see the crucifix weep. The discussion starts out civil, and quickly devolves into a shouting match as the ministers argue about the cause of these miracles.
And here’s where Peretti’s experience in church leadership really shines through, because this scene is perfect. This is exactly how this would go in real life.
Morgan tries to express an opinion and is interrupted at least three different times. Kyle brings up demons and the mainline pastors are all “who, whoa, WHOA.” Someone accuses the Catholics of worshiping the crucifix. Everyone yells about judgement.
Anyone who’s ever been to a leadership meeting about a divisive subject has been in this room, and if you haven’t, watch the excellent documentary The Armor of Light* and wait for the moment when four conservative evangelical leaders find themselves on different sides of the gun control debate.
So Travis and Kyle leave the ministerial meeting. Kyle is very upset, not because things got so ugly, but because no one agreed with him.
“You just sat there!” Kyle huffed as we drove across town. “These are lead pastors, ministers, people answerable to the Lord for how they lead their flocks and they get off on this stupid, wishy-washy, tolerance stuff – that’s Morgan Elliot’s bag, right? She and that Burton what’s-his-face. She’s some kind of liberal, feminist, radical, politically correct female pastor type, and all the men in there don’t want to stand up to her, right?”
Okay, so let’s go back a moment here and remember that Morgan is outnumbered 15 to 1 by the men in this room, and when she tries to speak she’s constantly being interrupted and challenged.
But look how scared Kyle is that Morgan is somehow magically dominating all of the men in the ministerial meeting. The dude is freaking out. From now on I think I’m going to refer to him as Fragile Kyle.
Fragile Kyle, by the way, talked twice as much as any pastor in that meeting, but he’s emotionally wounded because no one rushed to pat him on the back and tell him what a good boy he was.
Travis defends Morgan by saying this:
“She’s a widow, and she made sense.”
I’m not sure why “she’s a widow” is his first line of defense here. Does a woman have to bury a husband in order to have credibility? Or is he saying she can’t be a “liberal, feminist, radical, politically correct female pastor type” because she was once married to a man?
Finally the conversation turns to Armond Harrison, and oh boyyy did I forget this part. Armond Harrison is the leader of a local cult, nominally the church of the Apostolic Brethren.
“They consider the whole church one big extended family, so they move the kids around from family to family wherever Armond wants them to go. Armond usually requires the young women to live with him for a while so he can teach them about sex – whatever his view of it is, anyway. They, uh, do things.” I wanted to cut this short. “That’s about the gist of it.”
Fragile Kyle is justifiably horrified by this.
“But he’s a heretic! He’s a pervert!”
“Nobody’s asking you.”
He yelled at me. “What?”
I tried to explain, even though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t do much good. “Kyle, in the long, drawn-out scope of things, it’s really none of your business what the Apostolic Brethren do and believe. You can preach the truth just as God called you to do, but what Armond and his bunch chose to believe is up to them and you’re better off just leaving them alone. If you don’t believe me, just try to break up their little church. See how far you get. After you fall flat on your face, you can thank God you still live in a country where heretics like Armond Harrison can still roam free, because his freedom is your freedom.”
I bolded that last sentence because that’s not religious freedom, Travis, that’s child abuse and sex trafficking.
I’d like to be able to give Fragile Kyle some credit here for being horrified, but he isn’t horrified because children and women are at risk. He’s horrified because Armond Harrison is allowed to be on the same ministerial as he is. Once again, it’s about Fragile Kyle feeling threatened.
And like most fragile people, he lashes out, hitting Travis with the most condemning of all Christian phrases.
“You need to come back to the Lord, Travis.”
Travis bails out of the car and decides to walk home. Good call, Travis. Now maybe you could call someone else, like CPS or the police.
Next time in Chapter 4: Things get weirder, somehow.
*Everyone should watch The Armor of Light anyway because it’s fantastic. And it’s on Netflix now.