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That Old Time Religion


Brother Whittle began his sermon, saying, “In Genesis, chapter four, verses ten and eleven, the Lord God Jehovah said unto Cain, the son of Noah, after he had slain his brother Abel: And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shall thou be in the earth.”


He paused, narrowed his eyes, and looked out into the eyes of the congregation as if he had just read the most profound words ever written. “And we are told in verse fifteen that it is in that way God marked Cain,” he said, staring directly at Mark Allen Rinehart, a young man of fourteen who sat with Momma Rinehart, his sister Fannie Louise, and his three brothers Harry, Eddie, and Clinton in the third pew back from the pulpit and to the right of the center aisle.


The uneasy expression on Mark Allen’s face made it clear that he was aware of Brother Whittle’s staring.


Again Brother Whittle paused. “Listen again to what the Bible tells us about the mark God placed on Cain so that people could know him and turn away from him and his wickedness: When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shall thou be in the earth.”


“This passage is clear,” Brother Whittle said, again staring directly at Mark Allen. “It tells us God marked Cain as a man whose labor would never yield enough for him to feed himself and his family, a man who would be a fugitive from justice for the rest of his life, and a man who would be a vagabond who would drift from one place to another in search of, but never finding, a moment of peace or joy. And by God’s mark on Cain, we may know him and turn away from him and his wickedness.”


The uneasy expression of Mark Allen’s face gave way to one of dread.


“The thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus tells us that the sins of the father are visited on the generations. This means God marked the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, for his wickedness as well,” Brother Whittle said. “And in the ninth chapter of Genesis, we are told that his descendants were cursed to wander into the heart of a land we now call Africa. That means Ham’s descendants are Africans and heir to God’s mark on Ham for his wickedness. Their blackness makes it easier for us to know them and turn away from them and their wickedness.”


Brother Whittle removed the handkerchief from his suit jacket pocket and wiped his forehead. “The New Testament tells us that for taking the life of Jesus, the Jews were scattered across the face of the earth for all time and set up in all nations as objects of ridicule and torment. This is how God marked them so that we may know them and turn away from them and their wickedness.”


“The list goes on,” Brother Whittle said. “History tells us Catholics have been spurned and cast aside as the leaders of the world Christian community because they worshipped golden images—idols—that adorn their churches and because their priests sold indulgences—permissions to sin—to the rich and powerful. It is in that way God has marked them so that we may know them and turn away from their wickedness.”


Mark Allen turned to Momma and whispered, “I’m goin’ outside. I just know Brother Whittle is gittin’ ready to mark me next.”


“He wouldn’t do that,” Momma said. “But go if you must.”


Mark Allen got up and headed down the center aisle toward the door that led out of the sanctuary.


“Mark Allen Rinehart!” Brother Whittle shouted, hitting the pulpit with his fist.


Mark Allen stopped. His throat tightened. With every eye in the sanctuary fixed on him, he turned and looked up at Brother Whittle glaring down at him from the pulpit.


Brother Whittle grabbed the pulpit on each side with his hands and leaned forward. “Before you leave this sanctuary, it is my duty as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to tell you that you have sinned. When you put the rocks on the streetcar tracks near your home and caused the streetcar wreck that killed a dear brother and sister in our community, you sinned. You committed a wicked act just as Cain committed a wicked act by killing his brother Abel. And God will surely mark you with punishment so that we may know you and turn away from you and your wickedness.”


“But hear this!” Brother Whittle added, rolling his voice around the sanctuary. “God is merciful, and you can still be saved from Satan’s fiery pit throughout eternity. But you must repent. So, I beseech you to fall down on your knees before this congregation and beg God Almighty to forgive you for your wickedness in the name of his son and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”


Momma shook Fanny Louise, who had fallen asleep beside her. “Wake up, sweetheart,” she said. “We are about to leave.”


Then Momma jumped to her feet and glared at Brother Whittle. “My son will do no such thing!” she said firmly, raising her voice. “There is no proof that he put those rocks on the tracks, and the boy who accused him is a habitual liar!”


“Denial is a tool of Satan, Sister Rinehart,” Brother Whittle said with a raised eyebrow.


“What would you have the innocent do when they are falsely accused?” Momma said. “You stand up there and twist the words of Bible to justify your hatred of black people, the Jews, and the Catholics. And then you have the unmitigated gall to tie that into a condemnation of my son for a crime he did not commit and has not been arrested for. If anyone, Sir, is guilty of wickedness, it is you!”


Several people in the congregation gasped at Momma’s boldness.


Brother Whittle turned his attention back to Mark Allen. “May God have mercy on you Mark Allen Rinehart for what you have done and the shame you have brought on your family.”


“Amen!” the congregation shouted in unison.


Momma grabbed Fanny Louise’s hand and hurried down the center aisle toward Mark Allen with Harry, Eddie, and Clinton close behind. “Head for the door, Mark Allen!” she said in a loud voice. “We’re leavin’! This church is no longer a house of the Lord!”


As Momma, Fanny Louise, and the boys hurried out of the sanctuary, Brother Whittle looked out over the congregation and said, “It’s over. I have spoken the undeniable truth of God’s Holy Word and done as He has led me to do. So now, let us all stand and sing the invitation hymn Just As I Am. And as we sing, if there are those among you who have reason to fear God’s condemnation and mark upon you, come forward, kneel with me, and beg His forgiveness in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Copyright © 2023 Frank Zahn. Published in CafeLit Magazine,
London, UK
, November 15, 2023 -



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