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Run! It's the Clergy!

2004-01-16 - 4:03 p.m.

Just to prove that not all pedophilic priests are Catholic, I present to you Brother Stephen:

Brother Stephen was a preacher, and we were his unwilling but not entirely unamused congregation. He showed up on our campus once or twice a week, a rather short, slightly pudgy man with red-brown hair who wore a short sleeved white button down and a tie. He was in no way a threatening or intimidating man. He looked like he could be your insurance adjuster, or sell you a car. But Brother Stephen's business was condemnation.

With the speed and volume of an auctioneer at the county fair, he railed against everyone who walked along Locust Walk, the main drag of the Penn campus, and I do mean everyone. We were all sinners, to Brother Stephen, and we were classified by our sin, just as species of cats are classified by their spots. Women, particularly those who wore skirts above the knees, were whores. The men who walked beside them were whoremongers. Rather predictably, all gays and lesbians were sodomites. Most creatively, the obvious stoners--anyone with rastafarian-themed accessories or hairstyles--were sorcerers, because the Bible apparently defined sorcerors as those who have a knowledge of exotic chemicals and potions, which would qualify janitors, scientists, and a number of chefs, when you come to think of it. He shot the labels out at us like a machine gun that had discoverd syncopation, rattling of our punishments before finally hitting us with one of his four categories. He really shone, though, when he told us exactly where we were all headed. We were not simply going to burn in Hell, oh no. The repugnance of our sins required a more poetic damnation. We were all going to burn in the lake of FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!

Wait, let me try that again. Okay, if I were going to punctuate that, it would have to be "going to burn. In the lake; of; FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!" I'd also have to probably write it as "Inthelake," rather than "In the lake," as it all came out as one word. To further flesh out the rhythm, you have to imagine this as something like running up to a pool that you know is going to be ice-cold, but you want to jump in anyway. Or you might even think of it as something like a sneeze, or even an orgasm, but without the release of a sneeze or the satisfaction of an orgasm. There is no joy in "FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!" nor is there a sense of completion. There's great follow through, like a golf-swing, or perhaps even a continuous blast as from a fire hose. The pun was intentional there, because Brother Stephen did a GREAT job of invoking fire at this point. He held out his hand, and you could practically see the bright orange jets pouring out of his mouth, as if he were some low-level demon sent out to terrorize the unfortunate teenagers who have summoned him out of the ground in some early 90s horror flick. So with all that in mind, I'll say it again:

"You will burn. Inthelake; of; FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!"

It's times like this when I wish I could record stuff and put it on this thing.

This catch phrase took the show to an interactive level. Everyone joined in when he said that line. Of course, ebcause of the odd punctuation, people were usually a little late, so halfway through "FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!" you'd get a frat-boy chorus of "FIIIRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!" with half the juice and an entourage of giggles.

Occassionally, someone would get angry and challenge Brother Stephen. This wasn't a great idea because the man was so comic that he made his detractors appear comic as well. The arguments were usually the same; the challengers would remind Brother Stephen of obscure Bible passages such as "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Brother Stephen simply fired back with his laundry list of abominations. I can't quite remember what his response was to the numerous Jews on campus who asked if he kept kosher. Somehow, I can't help but wonder if he did.

Brother Stephen eventually became boring, until one day he stopped coming to campus with frequency. It was a good strategy, seeing as when he returned, the news was spread around campus as though we were 8 and he was the ice cream man. I tried not to pay him any mind, even when he brought his wife and infant son. Like most people, I had little time for someone so drowned in his own venom, someone so uncompromising in his belief that the surest way to get to heaven was to tell us all that we were going to Hell.

I believe it was during my third year that I first heard rumors of Brother Stephen being seen at a local gay bar. Some fellow sodomites from one of the many campuses he visited recognized him, and as soon as he saw the looks in their eyes he froze. They approached him and said that they knew who he was.

"What's a nice preacher like you doing in a place like this, Brother Stephen?"

"Uh, I just came in here to use the bathroom."

So good to know that the force of his bowels was stronger than the force of his contempt.

After I left Penn, I got an e-mail telling me that Brother Stephen had been charged with soliciting sex from a 14 year old boy. He pulled over in his car, asked the kid if he knew where he could find some porno movies, and then offered the 14 year old boy $20 is he would get in his car and drop his pants. Or perhaps drop Brother Stephen's pants and do a service to a man of God. Who knows, and who wants to?

I wish I could say that this makes me sad. I wish I could tell you all that I hope that this man finds help, that he comes to terms with the crippling effect of his self-hatred, a self-hatred that would make him willing to molest a 14 year old. I wish I could say that we should all feel a bit of sympathy for this man and the hundreds of men like him who turn into monsters in the closets and their cloisters.

But I'm not sad. I'm amused.

I feel a great deal of sorrow for anyone who this man has hurt over the years, because I am one of them. No, he didn't fuck me or try to fuck me or offer me money to fuck me (and, let's face it, there were times in college when I would have welcomed the $20, although I would have haggled him up to $75, at least). He just did his best to remind me that there were, and there are, people in this world who hate me, and that it doesn't matter to them that they are just like me. To make matters worse, there were many who said, "You know, I don't like his methods, but he makes a good point." I can't help but wonder how many sins these people keep hidden, and what those sins will become as they grow in the dark.

I feel compassion for soldiers who have to die for our country. I feel compassion for the poor in our nation and around the world. I feel compassion for all of the queer people, all the people of color, all the women who have been killed because of people who are afraid of being a fag, or a dyke, or colored, or a bitch. I love and care for a whole lot of people. When I imagine Brother Stephen coming out of the courtroom in chains, I can't bring myself to spare any for him.

So I laugh. I laugh for all the gay men and lesbians and bisexuals and transgender people who have been made to feel like shit or who have been the victims of violence by people like this guy. I laugh at a cruel man who has come to a very sticky end. I laugh because of schadenfreude, to quote Avenue Q and St Caroline of the Nickel Slots (, because it's making me feel glad that I'm not him.

Contrary to what some people might think, this does not make me as bad as him, or as any of the priests who have molested children or raped adults over the years. Because tonight, I might go out dancing, and I might flirt with someone, and I might even take someone home. But that guy will not be a child, and it will be by choice, and I will only pay him back for his time with time of my own, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

And I'll hope that, in a few years, this Godless expression of "religion" will be so unwelcome in this country, so gauche, so obvious in its malignancy, that everyone who witnesses it, including me, and my lover, and my children, will not be able to feel anything but pity.

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