Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
The following Saturday we – Gill and I, Joshua, and Hadassah – met with the elders of the church. Joshua had managed to get permission to come to our services the Sunday before, much to his surprise and ours, and though we hadn't lied we hadn't told the entire truth when introducing him. He was indeed "a friend of Hadassah's," but we knew that bit of truth would soon need completion. And now we were going to begin that process.
Nothing you can do can make such a meeting seem less like a tribunal. But the elders tried. They had commissioned a couple of the church's women to prepare some snacks – there were chips and dip, and some homemade garlic bread, and a choice of bottled water or sodas. The elders gathered along one side of the table – Tyrone Jackman, a large black man beginning to be elderly; William Fuentes, who looked and sounded Anglo in spite of his name; José Mendoza, who was one of the few Hispanics I've ever met who fit the stereotype of heavy accent and excitable temperament; Jim Garrison, who was quiet and steady; and Earl Carrington, our newest elder though he was also an older man. We ranged ourselves across from them – Gill, me, Hadassah, and Joshua.
Tyrone led us in prayer, and then said, "I'm sure that pussyingfooting around will just make it worse, so I won't do that." He had a slow heavy voice, with some of his Alabama roots still in the accent. "I know this is a serious matter, and I think all of the elders could speculate, but instead I'll simply ask why you wanted to meet with us."
Hadassah had insisted that she answer that question when it arose, and now she took Joshua's hand and mine, and held on tightly. "I'm pregnant."
Tyrone did something typical. He nodded slowly, leaned back in his chair, and began making small circles on the top of the table with a forefinger. "I suppose that your friend is the father."
I heard José breathing, and looking at him I saw his jaw clamped tightly. He was almost glaring at Hadassah, and Tyrone – who by now appeared almost asleep – said, "I know you have something to say, Brother José. Speak the truth in love, brother."
I saw José almost visibly rein in his temper. He had nearly not made it into the elders' group because of that temper, but I could see then that he was learning to control it. "What I have to say is maybe too harsh." He looked down at the table. "Tyrone has been teaching me compassion. I need to learn that lesson." He looked back up at Hadassah. "But sin is still sin, and I can't let it pass. You know – you and your friend – that you've sinned?"
"Do you repent of your sin?"
Hadassah said, "Yes," and Joshua nodded.
"I thought as much," Tyrone said. "I know this young lady very well. She's almost one of our founders, after all. Her parents helped us begin this church just five years before she was born. You grew up in this church, Hadassah, and I know you. I have no doubt of your repentance." He opened his eyes just a bit. "You, Joshua, I don't know. I'm not your judge and I'm not an interrogator, but I have to know. Please tell me something of your repentance."
He took a deep breath, and I saw his hand tightened on Hadassah's. "I know just how wrong I was. I gave in to my flesh, and I brought Hadassah down with me. It's bad enough that I sinned, but I dragged her into it too."
"We'll hear your side too, Hadassah," Bill Fuentes put in. "For now, please, let Joshua finish."
Hadassah nodded, and Joshua continued. "I dragged her into it. I've ruined what should have been one of the most special moments of her life, and of mine too – and by ruining it for me, I ruined it further for her. I deprived her of a gift I'd intended to give her on our wedding night." He nearly broke down then, but refused to stop. "I've hurt Hadassah, I've hurt her parents, I've hurt my parents, and I've offended God. If it's possible to be any sorrier than I am, I can't imagine it. If I could go back and change things, I would. I'll never stop being sorry about what I've done."
Tyrone nodded. "Do any of you brethren have any questions?" he asked of the other elders. No one did. "Hadassah, you tried to correct Joshua's account."
"It's not his fault. It's mine. I dragged him down. I threw myself at him when I knew better. I ... the old word is seduced ... I seduced him..."
Tyrone looked around at the other elders, and then leaned back in his chair again, his eyes going nearly closed. "Have any of you brethren ever seen two young people who loved each other so much?"
Even José Mendoza wasn't ready to deny that, and indeed he seemed much calmer now. I'd seen that before – at the first sign of sin he became a fire-breather, but when repentance was so clear and open he was equally quick to lose his ire, and turn his passion to compassion.
Earl Carrington spoke up. "Are you planning to get married?"
Both young people said "Yes" at the same time.
"Have you thought about when?"
Joshua answered that one. "We have, sir. We know the latest we can do it, but Hadassah would like to do it sooner. My parents ... well, they're not supportive of the marriage, and it's very tense with them right now. As much as I hate to rush, Hadassah and I think that the sooner we are married, the sooner my parents might come to accept what is."
"And if they don't?" That was Bill Fuentes.
Joshua sighed. "Then they don't. But Hadassah and I have already committed ourselves to pray for them, before and after the wedding."
"And Gill and I are doing the same thing," I said. "A family doesn't need this sort of a rift in it, and Joshua's parents will be family. They've already been our friends, but they'll be family."
Tyrone looked at me. "How have they treated Hadassah?"
"Badly," I said, finding myself afraid to say more lest I lose my temper.
"They don't have anything good to say about her," Joshua said. "They've called her names ever since they found out she's pregnant. They say they oppose us getting married because – this is their word – she's a tramp. And that's not all."
"And how does that make you feel?" Jim Garrison asked.
"Terrible. I've almost lost my temper with them more than once. If Mr. Garvin hadn't reminded me that I need to honor my parents, I would have. When they talk about Hadassah that way I just want to scream. She's not a tramp, or a whore, or any of the other things they've called her – she's not!"
Tyrone lifted a hand. "I know that – we all do. Remember, Hadassah's been part of this church her whole life. We know her." He took a sip of his water. None of us had been very interested in the snacks, but I know my own throat was raw with emotion, and probably everyone else's was too. "Who do you want to perform the wedding?"
Hadassah answered that one. "You."
"You know our policy, Hadassah."
"Yes. And I know that you might not want to do this wedding. If not, then we'll understand and find someone else. But we'd really like you to do it."
"I'm going to sound like Brother José," Tyrone said as he leaned forward now, and put his palms on the table. "If you hadn't so openly and honestly expressed your repentance here, I'd have resisted every effort to have this church sanction your wedding. Your sin is grave, and this church cannot and will not support those who sin in such a manner and refuse God's call to repentance.
"But you haven't refused." He appeared to change his course in midstream – he opened his mouth, and then closed it, and then spoke again. "Hadassah, who found out you're pregnant?"