Church Authorities Therefore Place Strict Rules
How it works
“For John his childhood raised in the tradition of the Christian church pits a person’s desire against duty. In keeping with most Christian doctrines many of the followers of the faith in the book believe that the body is the site within which the spirit can be dramatically transformed. The church and church authorities therefore place strict rules on how men and women dress and forbid what the church consider the sin or pleasures of the flesh and body. Some of these sins include smoking, drinking, and illicit sex. These rules are rooted in the church philosophy that the penultimate Christian experience is a “warming of the heart by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” ().
In Go tell it on the mountain the church and the authority derived from its scripture is used to repress many characters in the novel. Early in Go Tell It on the Mountain young John Grimes sits by a window from cleaning his family’s living room in preparation for Sunday morning. Watching the boys in the street playing is compared to a taste of freedom denied him in the in the strict Christian morality of his home “He wanted to be one of them, playing in the streets, frightened, moving with such grace and power, but he knew this could not be. Yet, if he could not play their games, he could do something they could not do; he was able, as one of his teachers said, to think. But this brought him little consolation, for today he was terrified of his thoughts. He wanted to be with these boys in the street, heedless and thoughtless, wearing out his treacherous and bewildering body”(). As John imagines playing in the street instead of doing his chores in his home the boys represent an escape from his Christian duties. However, their “graceful bodies” awakening his homoerotic desire. John’s longing signifies his need to escape not only the church but also the implications of an illicit desire he cannot control that directly go against the teachings of the church. As same sex relationships are against the teachings of the bible. This passage illustrates several tensions in the novel particularly the tension between the social demand that desire be controlled and the individual’s need to express desire that comes unbidden and is uncontrollable.
How it works
John who is 14 at the time of the novel is in puberty. Bewildered by his “”treacherous body and all of the changes that he is going through, many things become sexual images”(). A stain on the ceiling above his bed suddenly takes on the shape of a naked woman. He masturbates in the school bathroom while thinking of older boys and has “”watched in himself a transformation of which he could never speak.”” Even his friend and Sunday school teacher Elisha becomes a figure of john secret desires eroticized. John has a difficult time concentrating during his Sunday morning lessons because he is distracted by the physical appearance of the older boy whom John believes to be “”tall and handsome”” and by the sound of his voice which is “”manlier than his own.”” John respects Elisha as his elder in the church, but he also admires his phisc as much as he admires his character.
Although John’s feelings could belong to a young heterosexual male in puberty it also possible that they are John’s emerging feelings of homosexuality as subtle subtext that is never directly confronted but that is woven into the story. The novel does not state directly that John is gay but there are many instances in the novel that suggest that he may be. For example on the morning of his birthday when John’s thoughts turn to his “”sin”” of masturbating while thinking of the older boys. In addition to the anonymous boys whom John recalls in the school bathroom there seems to be one person John has a special affinity for that person is Elisha. We learn that John has a difficult time concentrating in his Sunday school class because he was distracted by the physical appearance, voice, and strength of Elisha. Baldwin eroticizes Elisha in the describing of Elisha’s ecstasy while in church when he feels himself overcome by the apparent power of the Holy Spirit.
Elisha’s head is “”thrown back, eyes closed, sweat standing on his brow . . . he stiffened and cried out . . . It seemed that he could not breathe, that his body could not contain this passion . . . until he dropped . . . moaning, on his face””(). This description of an out of body experience involving the holy spirit parallels sexual union in subtle manner. We are seeing Elisha through John’s eyes and while John does respect Elisha as a teacher and minister his admiration does not necessarily stop there. John’s view of Elisha during this incident is more sexual than spiritual does not prove definitively that John is homosexual. Earlier in the novel he watched a couple in an abandoned building while they had sex . Then looked at Ella Mae in a less than saintly manner when she and Elisha were called before the congregation for “”walking disorderly.”” This leads to the possibility of John’s emerging homosexuality. This contribute to his struggle to find a place for himself in his body, in his home, and in his life.
The importance of The Church of the Fire Baptized in the novel cannot be overstated. This church acts as an moral anchor for its members and promises them the riches of heaven when their poverty-filled lives. It provides a community in which people can find support and guidance and share their trouble and their happiness with like-minded people. Moral guidelines are established and members are expected to live by them. In a way it teaches its members the group morality and discourages destructive behavior.The church is also an outlet for repressed emotions and energy. Violence is not a socially acceptable manner by which to cope with anger and frustration. Releasing those passions in church through singing, shouting, and clapping gives an acceptable release of pent-up emotion. Energy that could have turned into violence is expressed through prayer. However there are drawbacks in The Church of the Fire Baptized. Its members tend to be rigid in their way of thinking and can be judgmental in their views of others. The proof of this can be found in what they call themselves. Members of the church are called “”saints.”” If they are the saints then there must also be sinners and the sinners appear to be everyone but themselves. Attending church fills them with a feeling of moral supremacy. At times it seems as though there is a contest to see who is the most holy and the most faithful in the church. Sister McCandles says of John, “”This boy going to make it to the Kingdom before any of them,”” as if salvation is some kind of footrace where the winner gets a little trophy at the end.
It is significant that the church the Grimes family attends is a storefront church. It is significant because it is not a true church it is a storefront used as a church this is an example of a diminished standard or expectation. A church can be any building or place where people come together to worship but the fact “the edifice in which the saints gather was not originally intended to be a church gives the reader a clue to the social status of the characters”(). They are poor and of a lower social class. The grand churches of the city are reserved for those who have more money and social status .Gabriel has his first taste of hypocrisy in the church during the banquet following the Twenty-Four Elders revival meeting. The ministers are apperantly the messengers of God men who had forsaken worldly pleasures in order to serve God and their fellow man. But as Gabriel fins out that they are not what they seem. “Gabriel finds them too well dressed and too well fed and more full of themselves than they are of the holy spirit”(). Later on in the novel these men of mock Deborah and ridicule her rape. Of course, Gabriel is not the model Christian either. He is a violent man who beats his wife and children. He has had an adulterous affair and has stolen money from his wife to keep his mistress a secret ultamatley he is a huge hypocrite. He dismissed his own affair with Ester as forgiven but refuses to allow Elizabeth the same courtesy. It is not surprising that the young John feels some ambivalence toward the church when the reality of the institution varies so widely from the ideal.”