“The sermon on this sunny day of our Lord shall be about one of the scourges of our times.”
Broad streams of sunlight fall on the faces of the parishioners through the arch-like windows of our St. Francis Church. The sun reflects in the miniature beads of sweat on the forehead of Joyce Bouyondo, framed by large lacquered curls. She is waving her fan and nodding enthusiastically at the promising words. Ever since she fainted during a sermon a while ago and had a vision of St. Luke giving her instructions on how to cure her abdominal distress, hemorrhoidal pains, and other bodily trials the Lord God has sent her, Joyce has been enjoying a reserved seat among the first row believers. Uganda must hold a special place in St. Luke’s heart because he keeps coming back to Joyce at least once a year.
Next to her is ancient Miss Chastity, who has managed to protect her name and preserve her virginity for more than seventy years. They say the only one she’d be willing to give her innocence to is Jesus Himself. But since the Second Coming is still pending, He hasn’t had the opportunity to meet her in person and has not made his desires manifest in other, more mysterious ways. On the same pew is also the white-haired Patrick Bayira, his face scarred by fire, one palm humbly nestling into the other. He is sitting among the families of several of my classmates, all emotionally close acquaintances of the priest.
My family and I are in the sixth row, but my mother thinks we have a good chance of moving up to the fifth in the coming month. She sure does her best to hasten the progress with the help of mouth-watering buns and homemade pastries that she regularly serves to “people of importance”, as she calls them. Next to me are my father, my brothers, and my sister, Precious. On top of her curls is a wide-brimmed hat, provoking envy in those sitting in front of us and discontent among the multitude in the back rows.
My head starts to drop. I like napping during service. Of course, I am always careful not to talk in my sleep and to periodically wipe away any telltale drool shining from the corner of my mouth. But the word scourge beckons for something truly outrageous. And we, Anglicans, are suckers for anything that has the potential to spice up a sermon.
Unlike the evening prayers, where everyone praises the Lord by singing songs, now the believers turn an open and heedful ear to the microphone-enhanced voice of the Reverend. We are waiting for him to tell us which scourge he is going to talk about. Because the world is full of scourges. It seems like the word is a delight not only for the ears of the parishioners, but also for the preacher's palate.
“Brothers and sisters! This scourge keeps devouring more and more souls, fueled by propaganda from America and Europe. This scourge is leaving indelible marks on our society in its attempts to corrupt and destroy it. Maybe by this point you have already guessed the curse I’m talking about... Have you? You have, or course! Yes, today we are going to talk about the hideous sin of sodomy.”
Grunts of approval float over the rows, accompanied by the fluttering of fans that keep the heat and the flies away from the flock. The expression on my sister's face under her new hat twists in un-Christian ferocity. Blood rushes to my head, and I thank the Lord that those around me, absorbed in the sermon, will not notice me blushing.
“These days, the forces of evil want to infect our homeland with their lust, with this new heresy that denies God's decision to create Man and Woman as separate beings!”
“Anathema!” a voice from the crowd shouts.
“Anathema!” dozens of throats echo it.
“Anathema!” Precious growls.
Suddenly, I’m not sleepy anymore.
“America,” the Reverend coughs, “has embarked on a new kind of colonialism, invading territories with its popular culture and imposing its perverted understanding of moral values on us. And one of the main tools of this colonial madness, you well know, is... Homosexuality. Tell me, brothers and sisters, is there anything more abnormal than having a man lay with a man and a woman with another woman? Is there?”
“No, there isn’t,” Joyce Bouyondo cries out.
“No, there isn’t,” everyone joins in.
“No, there isn’t, no, there isn’t, no there isn’t,” Precious intones.
“You know well that no one is born a thief, a murderer, a prostitute. It's a choice. Similarly, no one is born a homosexual. It’s a voluntary indulging in sin! So, who can claim that…? Yes, I will say it... that faggots and lesbians are people like any other and not perverted creatures who have willingly and deliberately chosen to live according to the laws of Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall we allow them to do this, brothers and sisters?”
This time, all answer in a chorus.
“No, we shall not!”
“Perhaps some of these organizations, spies and recruiters will try to reach out to you and your children. Because they are greedy for your children. They will try to mislead you, to sow the seeds of doubt in you, to misinterpret the holy scriptures... But you, brothers and sisters, you will never let them do that.”
He raises the Bible high; it’s bound in black and has a huge white cross on its cover.
“The Holy Bible is not interpretable. It is not something one has to decipher. Truth is stated clearly and precisely in it. Let me remind you what it says in Corinthians…”
The audience patiently waits for the finger, glistening with spit, to leaf through the pages, worn with use, and find the marked one. The Reverend clears his throat and begins to read in a singing tone:
‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
or those who lie with men,
nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Several people start clapping. The priest calms the crowd with one hand and turns the pages with the other.
“And Leviticus said:
‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.’ And also, ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’”
“Hallelujah!” a few people shout.
The Reverend raises his hands.
“Glory to the Lord! Those people who question and interpret the word of God, who do they think they are? What kind of people are those who spread such vice? We must find, punish and banish them!”
My sister can no longer contain herself and leaps to her feet. Many follow her. Most are only clapping, but some are shouting, “Glory to the Lord!” Joyce Bouyondo's chair is too fragile to bear both her excitement and her two hundred and sixty pounds, and she crashes to the ground. She is quick to take advantage of the situation and promptly faints. Several parishioners rush to her to take her outside, but she manages to recover and sit in a new chair. There isn’t a fainting-fit that could get her out of the church before the end of the sermon. Even Lucifer and all his horny helpers would be helpless. Shouting “brothers" and “silence”, the Reverend manages to calm people down a little. He continues to speak, now more serenely and meekly.
“I have told you many times about the Swedish Father Åke, who years ago rightly compared this gay infection to a tumor and insisted that it be cut out of the body of society. And what did they do to him, to that truth-bearer? They tried to condemn him, imprison him, destroy him. It’s how it works, this democracy of theirs. It’s how it looks, their so-called European tolerance. But we shall resist! We shall not become like them!”
Applause erupts again. I feel I'm sweating more than even Joyce Bouyondo, who has now come to her senses.
“Homosexuality is not an African phenomenon. It is a sin brought in from outside, a contagion sent from the West, through which the white men seek to destroy our society and culture. Remember, brothers and sisters, homosexuality is something brought to us by white people—”
Never has a silence fallen so abruptly. As if someone invisible has come and managed, for less than a second, to suck every human sound, word and breath out of the building. The fans stop fluttering, the chairs stop squeaking. The only thing breaking the silence is the absurdly loud buzzing of the ungodly flies. And all that because a voice has interrupted the Reverend.
As if in a dream I hear the heavy drop of sweat falling from my mother's forehead and hitting the floor. I see Precious' shocked face staring at me with her huge black eyes under the tilted hat. But hers are not the only eyes—countless gazes are bearing into my face, stinging me like little bees. The brown eyes of the Reverend are also fixed on me. An absurd question blazes through my mind: If the others are the bees, what is he then—a drone or the queen bee? Before I’ve had the time to answer myself, he drives his stings into me and injects his poison.
“Was that young Luke’s voice? What did he say...? And why did he say it?”
“I... I just wanted to say that faith in God is—”
“...a truth that cannot be ‘brought’ and ‘offered’,” he interrupts me.
“But in that case—”
“How old are you, Luke?”
“And who do you think you are, you, a boy of only fourteen, to shout during a sermon?”
The beehive of believers first starts to hum, then to buzz—a sound that gets louder and more menacing with every passing second.
“I just thought—”
“Young Luke, you are not here to think, you are here to listen! There is nothing to think about the truth. It just is!”
I know I must keep silent. But my tongue seems to move on its own will (or on the will of the Wicked One), and I continue to speak.
“But you said that if a man goes to bed with a man, they must be put to death... Isn't murder a sin, Reverend?”
Everyone starts to mutter reproachfully to me. My mother pulls my arm. Precious, lips pursed, is looking at me as if she wants to kill me with her own hands.
“Not when it is done in the name of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no, young Luke, greater or more abominable sin than for a man to lie with a man! These people spread AIDS. They eat feces. They rape our children! We are not here to unravel and ponder on the meaning of the Bible written by the Lord God Himself! It is also stated in the Book of Deuteronomy:‘“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’”
“But it also says there that any woman who marries not a virgin should be stoned to death. If that’s so, how many women should we kill?”
It is no longer humming or buzzing or shouting. What I hear now is an uproar! Joyce Bouyondo faints again, irrevocably this time. I feel someone pushing me. My sister is screaming something at me. Everyone seems to have gone mad, everyone seems to hate me, hate me, hate me! And in the midst of the clamor of tongues, I hear the cry of the Reverend:
“Get out of the temple! You're not welcome here anymore! You and your whole damned family!”