I witnessed an extraordinary event at church once. I think it was Bible study. I do remember that I was with my grandmother, most likely because I was too young to be home alone.
The pastor stood in front of the small crowd of adults and dropped a bombshell: the opening chapters of Genesis, the story of Creation, was a myth. Adam and Eve was an allegory. I don’t recall any of the adults getting upset in the moment, but my mind started racing. I knew what myth were – I had books about Greek and Roman mythology.
The Bible as a book of myths made sense to me. I didn’t get how I was supposed to believe that a snake literally spoke to Eve but a woman couldn’t have a head full of them. What kid wants to think that God will let all of your loved ones die and impoverish you . . . to win a bet with Lucifer?
People didn’t appear upset then, but they gave the pastor an earful after it was all over. Folks would not accept any teachings that in their minds undermined the authority of the Bible and, by extension, God. I know this because I asked him about Adam & Eve being a myth. He said that he wasn’t going to continue with that lesson because the congregation wasn’t ready for it.
That was my 2nd moment of shock. I had no idea that a congregation could overrule a pastor. I knew that ministers were not infallible but, if he was anointed by God to lead, how can you get upset by his teachings? Reminder, I was a child. The world was very binary to me. He’s either anointed by God or he isn’t. No room for nuance or shades of gray.
Raised in church, the pastor was presented as the wise teacher, the lead authority in charge. As I grew up, I realized that deacons did more than sit down front. A minister served at the pleasure of his people. That’s what stuck with me; if a pastor strayed too far from the congregation’s comfort zone the authority bestowed upon them could vanish in an instant. What other beliefs did he have that he needed to keep hidden because the flock wasn’t ready?
I’ve thought about this off and on over the years; my thoughts moving from my old pastor to ministers in general. How do you cope when you have religious/political/personal beliefs that would cause your congregation to revolt? Do you stay far away from the subject? If you don’t talk about it, you can’t lie about it. When, if ever, do you decide to stop pretending?
These thoughts let to the creation of Rev. Walter Robinson and Barbara Robinson, the couple who turn to Shanice for help in The Closet Case. They struggle with being true to themselves and tending to the church that they’ve build from the ground up.
What might it feel like to have lived a life of service – and to feel like all the good you’ve done could be washed away if people knew the truth about who you are and what you believe? Is this a noble act of self-sacrifice, a plain old lie or both?
And what if you get a letter threatening to reveal all?