On and on the preacher preached about how man and women were pure and individual for a reason, and of how the Bible taught that a man should take a woman as a bride and life time companion.
Aaron knew the sermon was directed towards him and the brunette who sat next to him on the church pew.
There was a certain something in the other man’s demeanor that only those who knew him best could decipher. It was a rare touch of hate and sadness, twisted into one colossal emotion. Hate towards all of those who thought them both condemned sinners, and sadness because no one accepted or understood how unconditional and pure his love for Aaron was.
Neither of them understood how something that felt so right and innocent could be so wrong.
Spencer squeezed Aaron’s hand and caused Aaron to divert his eyes from the front of the church to those of his lover.
“Can we leave, Aar?” he mouthed and nodded towards the safety of the door.
“Not yet,” Aaron responded, a hint of sadness reflected in his own eyes as he shook his head.
A sigh made its way through Spencer’s parted lips. He knew why Aaron wanted to be there.
“This will not be easy, Spencer,” Aaron had said earlier that morning. “This is the first time either of us have set foot in a church since our relationship went public. Brother Copeland is going to try and make us an example, to show them how unhappy so called sinners are. We have to act like nothing they do or say affects us. We have to face them to prove we are not ashamed of who we are.”
Spencer had nodded and reassured Aaron that he would be with him every step; that he was not alone.
Aaron was scared. This was also the first time he has been in the same building as his family since he came out to them.
They now sat four pews in front of Aaron. Neither of his parents had spoken a word to him or even looked in the direction of their once beloved son, but Aaron could tell they knew he was there.
He could tell by the way his mother occasionally brought her handkerchief to her eyes that she was trying not to cry; and he could tell by the way his father feverently turned the worn pages of his Bible that he wanted nothing more than to chasten his son until he was ready to repent of his every sin.
Aaron could not help but cringe mentally as he remembered his father’s punishments.
At the age of twelve, he had been severely reprimanded with a water hose for making a joke about one of the absurd laws in the Old Testament. Swollen and soar, he had ran inside seeking whatever safety his mother could offer, only to receive a harsh slap on the face for complaining about how his father had chosen to raise him.
The preacher suddenly brought Aaron back from his memories as he slammed his fist onto the pulpit.
“For in First Corinthians 6:9-10, the Lord clearly says, ‘Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’ All sinners will find themselves in hell if they do not repent of their sins and turn away from the devil’s path,” he proclaimed looking Aaron dead in the eye. “Now they have the chance to do just that, to turn back to the Lord, while together we stand and sing.”
The congregation rose in unison, except for a few of the older members who found themselves unable to easily do so in their later years.
As the organ sounded the first bars of the invitation hymn, Aaron’s heart leaped inside his chest. It had been to this very hymn that he had taken his first steps down the aisles on this day years before; the very song that he had once told his brother, Harold, could make him repent of any sin.
When the first verse began, he took Spencer’s hand in his own and clutched the hymnal tightly in the other. It took nearly the entire first verse for him to gain the strength to sing, but when he did, his voice rose confidently over those around him.
Oh why not tonight (not tonight),
Oh sinner, harden not your heart.
Oh why not tonight.
His eyes locked with those of the song leader and for a moment he felt compelled to run to the front of the church; to ling to the preacher in tears, and bed God to once again claim him as his own, but Spencer’s hand in his own gave him the strength he needed to remain where he was.
Repentance might offer him forgiveness and acceptance from his earthly and heavenly families, but it would also take away his reason for living.
It had been to Spencer that he had ran after learning of Jamie’s affair.
It had been Spencer who had held him while he cried over the miscarriage of the baby, who he latter found out had never even existed.
It had been Spencer by his side when his lawyer had listed off the terms of the divorce Jamie had demanded, and it was Spencer who had comforted him after the judge appointed Jamie full custody of their son, Bailey.
Spencer had always been there, even when it seemed like God was not.
Aaron wondered if God would forsake him completely. He doubted it. He had never doubted God’s grace before, and could not allow himself to do so now.
God was a merciful god.
The Bible said, “Love is patient, Love is kind . . . [love] rejoices in the truth; bears all things. Love never fails.”
What part of that definition did not define his love for Spencer?
A smile graced Aaron’s features when he noticed how quickly Spencer had sat down at the end of the song.
Spencer was not used to going to church. He had never stepped foot inside of a church before he had meet Aaron, but over the past several years, an important transition had occurred in the younger man’s life.
His attention had been drawn to Aaron as he sat patiently reading from the Bible during the long road trips the band often made while on tour. Eventually, Spencer began asking questions; and many a night, the two of them found the sun rising before the Bible was turned in for bed sheets and pillows.
Aaron still remembered the first time Spencer had attended Sunday morning services with him.
Even more memorable was when Spencer accepted the invitation and gave his life to Jesus a year later.
Tears of joy had blurred his vision as eh preacher lowered Spencer into the baptistry water. Afterwards, Aaron had thought the baptismal garments had made Spencer look like one of the angels who smiled down at them from the church’s stained glass windows.
“How does it feel?” Aaron asked Spencer that night. “How does it feel to know that nothing you’ve done wrong in the past matters any more? How does it feel to be completely free of sin?”
“Pretty good,” Spencer responded, his eyes fixed on the night sky.
Later on, when Aaron had stopped the car in front of Spencer’s house, the brunette had appeared restless.
“I love you, Aaron,” he had whispered as he climbed out of the car.
“I love you, too, Spencer,” Aaron had called back with a sense of pride still clinging to his voice.
Spencer had sighed and walked away from the car before Aaron could tell him goodnight.
It was three years latter before he heard Spencer say those words again, and only now, looking back, did Aaron realize what Spencer had been trying to tell him that night.
A chorus of Ahmen echoed around the church caught Aaron off guard. He had not even realized when the closing prayer had began, and now that it was over, the people around him were gathering their belongings to leave.
Spencer was watching him expectantly.
Aaron smiled nervously at his partner.
“This is it,” he said softly. “We have to face them now. If we just rush out, we prove nothing.”
The brunette smiled and patted Aaron’s hand.
“We have nothing to hide, Aar,” Spencer said with confidence. “Let’s knock ‘em dead.”
“We have no choice.”
Spencer shook his head, his brown eyes defiant.
“Even if we’re going to hell for this,” he stated louder than he had spoken all morning. “Then they will be right there with us for passing judgement.”
“That’s where you’re different.”–Aaron looked towards the now vacant pulpit.–“You weren’t raised in the church. You don’t understand how important it is to be in good favor with the rest of the congregation. If they don’t accept us, if the preacher keeps preaching directly to us, I don’t think we’ll be allowed to continue go . . .”
Spencer cut him off by pressing a finger to Aaron’s lips.
“That’s why I’m important. Since I wasn’t raised around their hypocritic bullshit, I can see past it. Why should we have to impress anyone in order to be considered ‘Christians’? Why do we even have to recognize a certain denomination? God makes the rules. People shouldn’t be allowed to change them.”
“You’re right, but God made people, Spencer.”
Aaron picked up his Bible and stood up before quickly glancing around the sanctuary for a sign of where his family had migrated, but not a trace of them could be located among the crowd.
Slowly, people were drifting into smaller groups and the entire room was buzzing with conversation.
“Aaron,” a voice stated in acknowledgment.
Aaron took a deep breath before turning to face his brother.
“Hey . . .” he said, his voice barely audible.
Harold shook his head before leaning over the pew and hugging his brother.
“It’s good to see you, Aar. I had a suspicion you would show up today. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one.”–He nodded in the direction of the door where Brother Copeland waited to shake hands with everyone before they left.–“It was wrong for him to pick the two of you out like he did.”
The relief was apparent on Aaron’s face.
“Thank you, Harold.”–Tears welled up in Aaron’s eyes.–“Thank you.”
Harold clapped Aaron on the back.
“Don’t stay gone so long next time.”
“Hopefully I won’t have to.”
After the brothers parted ways, Aaron stepped into the aisle of the church and Spencer followed close behind him. Together they made their way towards the back of the auditorium and closer to where the preacher waited.
Several people paused their conversations long enough to watch the couple pass by. Others whispered amongst themselves about the scandle the two presented.
One young mother even went as far as to cover her daughter’s eyes as if their love was a disease that could be transmitted by merely looking upon them.
With every step, the hatred Spencer had felt earlier grew, and Aaron’s desire to be perfect in their eyes faded away.
Even though the boys often disagreed on matters pertaining to religion and fellowship, by the time they made it up the aisle the same thought was with both of them.
This is not Christianity.
Spencer watched as the preacher ended his conversation with the family in front of them. The smile melted from the elderly man’s face when he fixed his eyes on the two of them.
“Good afternoon Brother Copeland,” Aaron said as he held his hand out to the preacher, but the gesture was left unanswered when the Man of God folded his hands behind his back.
“Aaron, Spencer, It’s nice to see you here this morning,” the preacher responded, his forced smile once again gracing his lips.
“Yes, this has defiantly been an enlightening experience,” Spencer said, his voice cold.
“Thank you for the sermon this morning,” Aaron added. “It helped me realized some of the mistakes in my life.”
The preacher’s smile faltered once again as he looked back and forth between the two men before him, unsure of how to respond.
Aaron smiled and took Spencer’s hand in his own before pushing past the preacher.
“You know, Aaron,” Brother Copeland spoke up at the last opportunity. “When I baptized you on this day twenty years ago, I never thought it would end this way.”
Aaron paused and looked back at the man.
“But that’s where you’re wrong, brother,” he proclaimed loud enough for anyone who cared to listen to hear. “We’re all sinners. My journey hasn’t ended. It’s just begun.”
The preacher was speechless, and as the door closed behind them, Spencer proudly put his arm around Aaron’s waist.
The Bible was tossed into the backseat and both men could once again breath easy.
All his life, Aaron had been taught that God was should be the most important factor in his life. He had also been taught that the only way to be close to God was by surrounding himself with fellow Christians and by respecting his brothers and sisters in Christ, both inside and outside of the church.
Without their favor, you are nothing in God’s eyes.
The same rule applied in most small town, southern churches.
Before, Aaron had never had a reason to question the way things worked with in the church, but now the tables had turned. Instead of being their favorite son, he was now viewed as a disgrace.
Spencer and Aaron had walked into the church that morning knowing they had to appear perfect in all aspects of their life that they could control, and even though they were unable to change the congregation’s opinion of them, they both left the church feeling better than they had when they entered.
There was no denying that everyone sinned, but Aaron knew that he felt closer to God when he was surrounded by people who loved and supported him in his decision to be with Spencer, than he ever could while surrounded by disapproving words, gasps, and bad memories.
If God was present whenever two or more people gathered in his name, then Aaron and Spencer could build their own church within their hearts: A church in which love truly was the greatest virtue of them all.