Her eyes sparkled like a drunken unicorn. Rainbows shot out of her eyeballs, puking sunshine all over me. An intoxicated look enveloped every corner of her cute features.
I had just uttered the magic words: “no, I don’t attend church”.
You see, to the ears of the pathologically-evangelical, this is a golden opportunity to save a soul.
I realised my
mistake genius the moment I said it. Because now, I will be the project of the cult’s resident MVP. She will not rest till I’ve heard the good news.
10 minutes ago…
Somehow, Melanie (feminist theologian and my comrade in all things social justice) and I found ourselves in a Sunway shoplot, in what many think is a church but is really a cult disguised as a church. Our plan to silently observe from a corner had long become a forgone dream. The moment we walked through the cult doors, we were ambushed by 1..2…3…4… lost count… keen cult members.
Which was welcoming and I appreciate it. I mean it. It’s not like they have an ulterior motive, right?
In this cult, there is a wall, adorned with the photos of every cult member. It’s a tedious process to qualify. One has to undergo months and months of training, sit through an exam. Upon passing said exam, the cult member is initiated, and is then awarded with the highest honour- their picture on the wall.
But do not be deceived! For nothing is permanent in this word, as we learned from a sweet-looking usher who jumped at the opportunity to explain the wall.
Amongst the neatly hung photographs are obvious blank spots that look like pictures used to be there but were later ripped off.
“Why the blank spots?” I ask sweet usher girl.
“Oh, those people have sinned,” sweet usher girl explained with absolutely no visible conflict. “So we excommunicated them.”
Kicked out of church? This cult church actually properly excommunicate people that are “out of line”?
“What did they do that’s so horrible?” Melanie and I asked. We wanna know. Murder Lee Chong Wei? Refer to cendol as a Singaporean dish? Eat nasi lemak with chopsticks? We wanna know!
“One became a lesbian. Another married a non-christian. Still another is a drug addict.” See? Such terrible sinners, her expression convey.
I’m tempted to clarify how one “becomes” a lesbian.
Instead, I say nothing. Mel says nothing. We both say nothing.
10 minutes later…
Away from the wall, buttocks in plastic chairs, we were quickly approached by well-meaning cult members. Melanie settles into a conversation with a nice looking guy with a man bun. They talk about the Malaysian church landscape. This is a topic I enjoy dearly, and I tried my best to participate…
… If not for a fun-size girl with a ponytail and a can-do spirit. She sits to my left, her eyes glued to me like a vulture.
First, she wanted to know if I was new.
Then she asked if I attend church. Then unicorns.
Each time, I make it crystal clear that the other conversation interest me more. I do this by physically turning away from her and facing Melanie plus Man Bun.
This does not faze her. She does not run out of questions to ask me. Finally, after what was probably the 10th time of her vying for my attention, I point blank tell her that I’m invested in the other conversation.
A normal self-aware person will read the giant sign.
But nope, not the cult’s MVP. She CONTINUES to probe me about my spirituality.
Until suddenly, her ears perked at the conversation between Melanie and Man Bun- they are talking about The Wall. Discussing the contentious topic of excommunication.
Melanie asked: “everybody sins. Why these few so special? Why excommunicate only them? Why not kick everybody else out? Is there a hierarchy of sin?”
MVP girl smells an opportunity and interjects: “We are all sinners, but they are different. They refused to repent despite repetitive counsel.”
“The lesbian was counselled for a year,” Man Bun adds. “We knew right from the beginning that she’s gay, and yet we welcomed her into our church.”
You know, I actually liked Man Bun. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Clearly, I forgot about the cult bit. Still a nice guy, though.
“WOW!” I exclaimed. “That’s really generous of you guys.”
“It is very clearly stated in the bible that they have sinned. We excommunicate them so that they know the pain of being separated from God’s people. So that we are not also tainted by their sin.”
“But really, how do you define sin?” I asked. Sin is bad. And these people are such experts on sin! They certainly behave that way. God must’ve disclosed divine revelations to them!
Should I take my sandals off?
I get an epiphany. “Is drinking a sin?” I’m a kinda concerned about the definition of sin, because I tend to gulp down beer by the galloons.
“Drinking is not a sin. But getting drunk is a sin,” replies MVP. I nod. Phew! That’s what I read in my bible too, so maybe we read the same bible after all.
“I’m sure many people have been drunk before,” she continues, gesturing at the growing congregation. “But those they do in private ma. This one is public wor. Put on social media summore, pose with the girlfriend. All the non-christians can see.”
Oooohhhhh! That makes sense. It’s only a serious sin if it’s public. I express my understanding. “I see, so if public then kena, but private then never mind lah.”
“Public or private is not the only criteria,” she corrects.
“Then how? What other criteria?” I’m puzzled.
She mutters something that does not add value to the conversation.
“Why the goalpost keep shifting wan?” asked Melanie.
“Some sins are really clear sins. Like having sex before marriage,” MVP is still adamant.
Ooo.. Sex! My favourite topic. I take the opportunity to clarify the ambiguous parts. “What is sex leh? Oral sex considered sex or not?” Don’t know what their policy on anal is either, I forgot to ask…
It is at this point that I suggest they make a flowchart. Easier for everyone, don’t you think? “Should I suck my boyfriend’s dick? Wait let me pull out my flowchart… ah sin! Better not, after kena excommunicated.”
I don’t think she appreciated my recommendation, because she called me a “pharisee”. Pharisees like sin to be well defined, she explains. Also important to note that pharisees are often the poster boy for sinners. I am gleeful that my lifelong suspicion has been confirmed- I am a wretched sinner.
MVP moves on to another example. She is still determined to get Melanie and I onboard with this excommunication practice. I don’t know why she’s under the impression that we’re not onboard.
“There was this boy, he like to take meth,” she informs us. I strain to remember the chemical composition of meth, and its effect on the human body. Instead, she takes this to mean my contraband-illiteracy.
“Do you know what is meth?” she asked with a condescending tone.
I consider my options: do I tell the truth and look even more like a wretched sinner for my illicit knowledge? Or do I lie and risk the flames of hell?
I decide against the eternal damnation of my soul and admit: “I should lie and say no, but the truth is, I do.”
I half expect her to point and yell “sinner!” but instead she continues “ya, this fella take meth you know. Then he steal money from his parents and then take rock and throw at their car.”
I gasp loudly. “So teruk! Good thing you all kick him out.”
For the hundredth time, she thrust a heavily highlighted bible under our noses and jabs at a verse: 1 Corinthians 5:13. “Expel the wicked person from among you,” it commands.
And for the hundredth time, Melanie asked: “and what is the context of this verse?”
MVP just blanks. Sista, if you’re going to kick people out of church on the weight of this single verse, you cannot afford to blank at this basic question. (I should add that MVP is not just a random cult member, if anybody know their answers, it’s her. She was sponsored by the cult to do divinity studies at Moore Theological College in Aussie- the same college that has a long history of clergy wife abuse, but that’s a whole different conversation.)
Maybe context is not important to these cultists, for God has bestowed upon them divine revelation! Their situation is unique! They are allowed to cherry-picked verses!
Therefore, it doesn’t matter to them that 1 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul as part of what was probably a lengthy to-and-fro correspondence. It is especially not applicable that using this letter to create rock-solid doctrine is equivalent to using only one side of a WhatsApp conversation to write a journalistic piece. Therefore, although we don’t know what the context Paul was writing in, it is safe to ignore the high possibility that he’s talking about one particular situation this one particular time. Therefore, it is okay to throw people out of church because a cherry-picked verse in the bible says so.
Because of their divine appointment by God, I also content that it was completely justifiable to break a family apart. Two brothers don’t speak to each other anymore after one was unfortunately dismissed from this highly-esteemed cult. They broke a nuclear family apart because of a bible verse they don’t even bloody know the context of, but that’s okay. Because they have divine appointment and we are all wretched sinners.
Literalist, as Melanie will say. They read isolated bible verses in a vacuum, and literally. They cannot handle ambiguity, everything must be black and white, even if the black and white does not correspond to reason nor empirical evidence.
The term “literalist” typically carry a negative connotation. But in the case of this cult, one must not ignore the unusual situation where they are specially hand-picked by God (that’s the only reasonable explanation for their behaviour), and are therefore allowed to interpret scripture without the context of reason, tradition, nor experience.
Never mind that the bible is full of errors, and cherry picking might very well mean cherry picking an error. This thought struck me and I asked MVP, “do you believe that the bible is the inerrable word of God?”
“Of course! Don’t you believe the bible is perfect without errors?”
I consider lying again. But you know, flames of hell, yada yada yada, so I admit, “er, no.”
Her eyes widened. She inhales sharply. Shock colours her face as she retreat backwards, probably a precaution in case of heavenly lightning. Don’t wanna get caught in the crossfire of God’s punishment on me, I understand.
“Have you not read the bible before?” I ask slowly.
“Yes! I’m learning Hebrew,” she says.
I give her a pointed look.
Then- and this is the highlight of my evening- she says in one. Single. Breath: “I know about the errors in the bible. I think the bible is inerrable.”
This is a whole new level of intelligence, I decide. To quote the great writer F.Scott Fitgerald, “the test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. These are highly-intelligent people, I realised with awe, that they are able to juggle their cognitive dissonance with so much confidence.
It is something a wretched pharisee like me simply cannot understand.
Writer’s note: It doesn’t take a genius to guess which church this is. Anybody on the church scene long enough would’ve heard about them, often not by choice. I’ve heard my share, and I expected my experience to be bad. I was wrong- it was so so much worse than what imagined.
However, I admire their heart, misguided as it is. That’s all I have to say.
Something that must be clarified is that I do not agree with most of their views. Excommunication is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. I do NOT believe that homosexuality is a sin. I do NOT think dating/marrying a non-christian is a sin. I also do NOT think taking drugs is a sin. What IS a sin- and I’m guilty of it everyday- is pride. Pride is a sin.
They were right about that one thing, I AM a wretched sinner.