“You’re effeminate! You’re going to Hell. You need to repent, you effeminate man!” The street preacher kept yelling in my face at a distance of about 6 inches. I occasionally broke in with questions, or responses challenging his presuppositions. I don’t remember ever meeting this man before, but he seemed to know who I was, or at least he thought he knew me. He was probably given intel by his street preacher troop. They all seem to know who I am on their first visit into Salem. His favorite words for me were “effeminate” and “Hell.” I guess those words belong in the same sentence in his mind.
He stepped backed and cracked a twisted smile. “You can’t handle the truth, can you?”
I smiled because of the unbelievable presumption of that question. No, there was none of the sense of guilt or remorse, which we Christians call “conviction.” Contrarily, this supposedly grown man sounded like a rude child mimicking the behavior of an immature teen he admired. With his name-calling, which seemed like the inversion of slut-shaming, he didn’t even deserve a passing grade in street preacher chest thumping.
As he continued shouting he kept repeating the word, “effeminate.”
I just don’t fit that label very well. I’m about as pretty boy as Hagrid. I typically am told I look like The Most Interesting Man in the World, or Jerry Garcia. When my hair was shorter and I couldn’t pull it back yet, I was told that I looked like Karl Marx. This is not quite a list of the girlie-looking men in history. You could call me a lot of things that might fit, but the absurdity of this was humorous, and I was laughing at the guy.
As he rejoined the semicircle of co-belligerents he tossed one last shout at me, “You need to repent and cut your hair! You’re effeminate!”
I had been wondering where he got the ridiculous label “effeminate.” Apparently, he didn’t like long hair on guys. You know, guys like Jesus.
I walked up to within six inches of his face. And I said, “My hair was short until 5 years ago.” And now I took on his demeanor, and yelled at him, “Do you know why it long now? Do you? Do you know?!”
At this point, he stood down and did not answer, or even mumble a word.
“Because I took a Nazarite vow!”
Now a Nazarite vow is the same vow that was upon Samson, and it is why he did not cut his hair. And it is true that my hair has not seen razor, nor clippers, nor scissors for over 5 years, because of a vow to God. This has been a partial Nazarite vow, but it one of many such agreements I have taken with God on a short term basis over my 35 years of being a Jesus follower.
The street preacher did not skip a beat. As I turned and walked away, he shouted at me again, “Well you need to repent and cut your hair!”
Apparently, according to the fundamentalist, bullhorn toting street preacher, even if I do something biblical, I must repent of doing that biblical thing in order to get into heaven.
Is there any hope?
Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.
This is a true story from the Halloween season in Salem in 2015. If you’ve been assaulted by this kind of Christianity, I’m sorry. We really aren’t all that uptight. Most of us are not going to be worried about how manly, or how womanly you are, and we certainly aren’t going not be measuring your hair on Sunday. Every group has its kooks. Christianity has just a few more than most other religious groups, but that’s because we are the big boys on the religious block, and there are more of us to potentially get our britches twisted.
If you enjoy true stories as absurd as this, I’ve got a pile of them, and you can find some of them in my new book Burning Religion: navigating the impossible space between secular society and religion. Print edition will come out later this month.