“Okay, I’ve been asked by leadership to address the unfortunate situation that arose during last Sunday’s service,” Jeremy said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sure that many of you were deeply upset or confused by it.”
“What happened?” Curt asked in a whisper, leaning toward Hannah.
She frowned. “Someone put something bad on the screen during the sermon.”
Her cheeks turned red. “People having sex.”
Curt recoiled in surprise. “Like a porno?”
Hannah nodded. Her face was almost glowing in embarrassment now. If they’d turned out all the lights, her cheeks might have lit up the room.
Jeremy droned on, his own face exhibiting a high degree of discomfort toward this topic. He spoke about learning to control their urges and avoiding temptation. Most of his audience avoided eye contact; it seemed everyone just wanted him to stop.
“What kind of porn was it?” Curt asked quietly.
Hannah gave him a dirty look. “Why does it matter?”
“Just curious. Was it gay porn? Or lesbian porn? Or straight porn?”
“It was two women if you must know.” Hannah turned away from Curt in disgust.
Huh, he thought to himself. Curt wondered how that scene played out. If statistics were accurate, a reasonable number of people in Beaumont Baptist Church’s sanctuary that morning enjoyed partaking in porn. Actually, reviled themselves for partaking porn was a more accurate assessment.
Gradually, Curt’s thoughts shifted to another question. It seemed most of the kids there were wondering the same thing because someone voiced that very question.
“Who did this?” asked one mortified girl in the front.
“We don’t know,” Jeremy said. “It seems someone downloaded a program onto the computer giving them remote access to the computer.”
“Oh, come on, we know who did this,” Jake Ankiel, sitting in the back, interjected. “I bet it was those atheists.”
The hairs on the back of Curt’s neck raised to attention. He rotated in his seat, locking eyes with Jake.
“We don’t know that for sure,” Jeremy said.
The muscular EMT looked right at Curt as he lobbed his next accusation into the open. “After all that’s happened lately in town? Who else would’ve wanted to do it? It’s clear they want to destroy Christianity in America.”
Most of the students stayed quiet, though a few murmured in agreement.
“What atheists?” Curt asked.
Hannah shifted in her seat next to him. The rest of the room went silent, sensing a confrontation was looming.
“Which atheists?” Curt repeated. “I need you to be more specific. It’s not like we have a club or anything.”
“Yes, you do,” Samuel said incredulously.
“Do you mean the Humanist Chapter in town?” Curt asked. “Because you don’t have to be atheist to belong to that.”
“Maybe we should talk about this later, in private,” Jeremy suggested, his voice faltering.
“Your dad talked about bringing in the Satanic Temple to help get God out of our town,” Jake said. “We know what you’re about.”
“The Satanic Temple?”
No group quite possessed the power to troll Christians like the Satanic Temple. They were vastly misunderstood by the general public, though.
“They don’t even believe in Satan or the supernatural. They’re more in favor of protecting freedom of speech and separation of church and state.”
Jake leaped to his feet. “How can you not believe in the supernatural? Especially after what happened to you? Seems like you’d start believing.”
“Now, Jake,” Jeremy scolded, “We shouldn’t bring up things like…”
“What are you referring to?” Curt asked, rising to his feet. “That my dad was struck down by God because he opposed your stupid Ten Commandments monument?”
The conversation was spiraling out of control. Curt’s dad often found ways to defuse these kinds of escalating situations. But Curt’s emotions were getting the best of him.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I think,” Jake spat back.
Curt felt the temperature rise in his own cheeks. “What are we? Living in the middle ages? Lightning came from the sky, must be God? Are you sure it wasn’t Thor? I mean, he’s the rightful god of thunder, right? My dad died because we live in a chaotic universe, and he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He struggled for composure. Many of the lessons his dad had taught him over the years cycled through his mind: Don’t let it get personal. Ask questions. Understand where the other person is coming from and find common ground. But Curt couldn’t prevent this situation from getting personal. If he stayed in the church, he’d lose control completely. While glaring at Jake, Curt stalked out of the room.
Footsteps stomped after him. Jake Ankiel had tracked him down the hallway, with Samuel Wilson tailing behind.
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