Where's Your Smile?


This girl was happy. It was 1985, and she'd just joined the Jimmy Swaggart church cult. Look at those eyes, so bright, oblivious, and naive. I miss that slim neck. 

Do you have any idea how many times that young lady heard, "where's your smile?" Because there is no tolerance for a joyless, nonsmiling female cultist. And what's not to smile about? I had new friends and a community. I worked at Jimmy Swaggart's for four years. We had a little utopia where we worked, went to church, had friends all right there together. One time I tried dating a guy who was Baptist. I was told we would be unequally yoked because he didn't speak in tongues, so I didn't date him. Another time a guy asked me why I wore black all the time. He was two years older than me, but somehow he was our leader. He said my clothes gave off an air of oppression. When anyone there used the word "oppression," they were referring to the devil. So he was saying that I looked like the devil oppressed me. Fancy jargon for "you aren't quite possessed yet, but that devil is sitting on your head just waiting to be let in." crazier still is I don't remember wearing black all the time. I just remember not having many clothes, being poor, living off $7.25 an hour, not having a car, and trying to survive.

Now I realize he was paying far too close attention to me, so he had to create an excuse for being too observant of what I was wearing. 

Over the four years I was there, I learned it was me who defrauded men, even though I never showed cleavage and dressed like a schoolmarm from the fifties. I learned that mixed bathing (swimming with guys) was not what good Christian girls did. I learned that masturbation was evil and I was damaged because I wasn't a virgin, so I wasn't likely to get a good Christian husband.

One time my friend Ammye was drinking out of a straw at Chili's, and she received a scolding from two "leaders," Brad and Bob because they told her she was seducing the straw. She was sixteen years old, beautiful, and they weren't allowed to masturbate, so she was to blame when they got horny because of how she drank from a straw. 

Ah, but we smiled, as we were told. We took on all responsibility for weak men while at the same time affirming the shared belief that they were superior. The submission was the goal. Submit to men, learn that anytime they fall or err in any way, it's a woman's fault. 

After I left the Swaggart cult, I sought out other cult-like churches. 

And for many years, I watched as men fell and were wept over, and displays of repentance immediately accepted and rewarded with new jobs and leadership resumption. But the women were sent away and blamed even though the man in leadership had all the power. Somehow the American God cults find ways to rehabilitate men quickly but not the women they mess around with. 

The American God has progressively gotten worse since my days at Swaggart's, Bethany Church, and HPC. He's even more of a jealous, demanding, glory-hungry, exclusionary, homophobic, who values guns, the flag, and life before birth but not the living people on death row, kids on welfare, or kids who cross the border illegally. That's why American Evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for a thrice-married, serial adulterer accused of sexually abusing over 26 women, who called developing countries "shitholes," called Colin Kaepernick an SOB for kneeling during the anthem but told the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys, to stand by and stand down. 

For those who worship this American God, dickishness equals godliness, but bitchiness doesn't, cuz that's women, and women just need to smile.

I don't worship your American God; he's not the father that Jesus taught us about. He's not the Jesus of scripture who loves above all else. He's the opposite. 

At first, cults, fundamentalist, and charismatic churches are great. They "love bomb" you. Not unlike street gangs, they provide connections and a family for people who are lost. They present a warped yet convincing version of Jesus. They tell you "die to self" so Jesus can shine, which I found to mean labor for free and never to question God's anointed leaders-men who live the high-life off my tithe and the money they save because of all that free labor. 

When women in the church are treated equally in all areas

When the church stops codling pedophiles, abusers, sex predators, nationalist, and racist

When the church stops equating Christianity with patriotism

When the men of the church stop making idols out of arrogant, rude, prideful, spiteful bullies

When the church stops exploiting the poor and using them so that rich people can enhance their savior complex

When it repents and begins the work of repairing the damage done from generations of racism, sexism, homophobia, greed, pride, arrogance, and just overall dickishness 

Then maybe we can all smile naturally.

Because until then, the American God and the church that sells him will continue to be a perverse and antiquated cult of personality that preys on its congregants and makes the world worse, not better.

It's not the devil, liberals, socialism, feminism, the LGBTQ community, or anyone on the outside tearing your religion apart. What's festering and infecting the American church is the embracing, enabling, and empowering of men who are dicks. 

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