Monday, July 04, 2005


Shortly after we were engaged Laura and I began to think about where we wanted to go to church. We had radically different church backgrounds, so my idea of what makes an acceptable church and her idea were travelling along slightly different tracks. The first church we went to was Church on the North Coast in Lorain, OH; a charismatic church if ever there was one. I had fond memories of the place going back to the earliest days of my salvation, so it was natural for me to think of it first.

Laura didn't like it.

In retrospect I shouldn't have shoved her into a wild Pentecostal atmosphere after a lifetime of being a good Baptist girl. After the service was over, as I drove her home, we had a long talk about it. It was during that conversation that a lightbulb went on and I had the revelation. I knew where we should go next- it was in Elyria, it was Baptist, it was similar to what she was familiar with at Chippewa.

Victory Baptist Temple is on the outskirts of Elyria; technically they reside in South Amherst. They boldly advertise themselves as an old-fashioned, independent, fundamental Baptist church, and they lived up to the billing. They sang old hymns, the men wore ties and the women wore skirts instead of pants, and the preaching fulfilled the definition of "fire and brimstone." We went once... we went twice... we were hooked. We even had the pastor and his wife as guests at our wedding.

Dr. Jeffrey Smale graduated from Hyles-Anderson College in the mid-80's. The school was founded by a man who could rightfully be considered as the Baptist pope, one Jack Hyles. When Hyles spoke, people listened. End of story. If you wanted to buy a house, you talked to the preacher. If you wanted to date, you talked to the preacher. In retrospect the whole set-up bears more relation to a cult than a church, but I didn't see it that way. All I knew is that Pastor Smale believed in right and wrong and wasn't afraid to proclaim it. He also took interest in me and my questions. And as usual, I had a lot of them. We went out door to door witnessing together. I went out on Saturdays to visit newcomers with him, a spot that any man in the church would have loved to snag. I relished the attention and expected to attend Victory Baptist Temple for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, real-life had other plans.

The first snag came within the first year when I wanted to visit old friends at Metro Church South. Laura and I didn't have a problem with it, but being the good Baptist that I was becoming, I asked Pastor Smale about it. He said I shouldn't go. We exchanged several e-mails about it. I'm not sure if he was used to someone questioning him after he gave his view, but we didn't agree. Laura and I made plans to go visit. Pastor Smale's wife made plans to talk to Laura about it. The next thing I knew, Laura didn't want to go. My first taste of the dark side of independent Baptist life. I went anyway, without Laura, but a wedge had been driven between me and the church.

In June of 1999 Laura and I discovered that we were expecting our first child. An exciting announcement was tempered somewhat by Mrs. Smale's disappointment that we hadn't consulted "the preacher" first. We were supposed to consult our pastor about such a personal decision? Another crack in the wall.

Other things started to bother me. When we first started attending I gave up a sizable portion of music because Pastor Smale said Christian rock was of Satan, and I wanted to fit in. I wore ties to church every Sunday- to fit in. I asked Pastor Smale's advice about everything- to fit in. And it was making me crazy. I was becoming someone I hated. I finally cracked when I realized that my future son was going to be hearing one thing from the pulpit, and another thing at home, because I certainly wasn't going to tell my son that charismatics were demon-possessed and Catholics were going to hell. I may not have known anything about fatherhood, but one thing I did know- I had to be a person that my son could respect. And he couldn't respect me if I didn't respect myself.

I had to leave.


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