They'll know we're Christians by our exotic dancing

A single mother condemned by her church for her job is holier than it is.

Published May 17, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

There is a God.

As last I have the proof I need. While so many others have been satisfied with faith and a personal knowledge of his/her mysterious ways, I have waited in vain for a sign. And now, at last, it has come. I have finally joined the fold, led to its comforting embrace by a nude dancer.

Her name is Christina Silvas, a 24-year-old single mother of a 5-year-old in Rancho Cordova, Calif. And as is often the case with vessels of divine intervention, these last few days have not been easy for her. Less than a month before the end of school, Silvas was told by her pastor -- Rick Cole of the Capital Christian Center -- that her daughter could no longer attend the church kindergarten and that she and her daughter were no longer welcome at the Assembly of God church where they have been loyal parishioners. The problem? Silvas' job as a dancer at Gold Club Centerfolds.

"If you choose to do the wrong thing willfully, then God's word instructs me as to what my responsibility is," Cole told the Sacramento Bee newspaper. "I need to be faithful to my calling."

But instruction and calling in this case appeared to come not from God but from Capital Christian Center gossips who circulated rumors about Silvas' employment, downloaded pictures of her from the Gold Club Web site, and brandished them at the school, leading Cole to expel Silvas' daughter and turn the pair out into the cold. How does that hymn go? "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we're Christians by our love." It happens that even the most cynical heathen can spot Satan's hand at work in this one.

In fact, if there weren't a story already in there about casting the first stone, the Bible would be the perfect place for this tale: A young Christian woman, intent on her daughter receiving a Christian education, takes a job that makes it possible for her to pay $400 a month in tuition to a Christian school. She does not try to hide the source of her income; she has, in fact, asked herself, as her father raised her to do, "What would Jesus do?" and decided that, were he a young single mother struggling to instill Christian values in her child in Rancho Cordova, he might have danced nude at a club off Hwy. 50 to pay for church school.

In true biblical fashion, the young Christian woman finds herself among those who would call themselves Christian but are not. They test her mightily, subject her to ridicule and condemnation, and attempt to wound her by striking at the things she holds dear -- her daughter and her Christian values. And this is where God comes in. Christina (you wouldn't have to change her name for the Bible story) rises to the challenge. She protests the church's decision. She says, "I thought the church was supposed to accept everybody." She decides to tell her daughter not to worry and to begin "praying that something will change."

And it already has. So compelling, so biblical is the story of Christina Silvas that the media (one of the mysterious ways) has chosen to tell it, and suddenly, the 4,000 members of the Capital Christian Center, reportedly one of the largest Assemblies of God in the country, are not so much the judges as the judged. "It's very stunning to me to see it on the news," pastor Cole told the Sacramento Bee. "We've been thrust into this media craze, but not by our desire."

But "this media craze," though sometimes ignited by desire, can be moved, it seems, by a higher power. Cole ought to know. His church had a similar "teachable moment," as they are sometimes called, back in 1995, when a student at the school was stripped of his valedictory status because his hair was too short. His family sued; the church issued an apology and settled out of court. And, in yet another biblical twist, the young man wound up at Stanford University after a high school career distinguished by first-rate achievement in athletics and academics.

Silvas' daughter might also be saved and allowed to flourish in a school that teaches rather than condemns. Her mother might be praised there for her commitment to her child's education instead of denounced as a sinner. God knows they won't be going back to Capital Christian anytime soon.

Could Silvas really find it in her heart to go back to a place run by a man who says, "I talked to her for over an hour, letting her know how much God cares about her and loves her and that he has a much better plan for her than what she is doing with her life right now"?

"Hell freezes over" comes to mind. But one never knows. Not to belabor the mysterious-ways thing, but as a real-life parable, this story could go all the way. The good people of the Capital Christian Center may still see the light: They might recognize Christina Silvas as a fellow traveler, a good Christian chosen from their midst to teach them all a lesson. Or maybe Cole will trace those calls he's been getting from God and find that the admonitions to persecute Christina Silvas, to deny her a church and a school, to deny her love, were not coming from him at all.

If you've read the Bible, you'll know that stranger things have happened.

By Jennifer Foote Sweeney

Jennifer Foote Sweeney, CMT, formerly a Salon editor, is a massage therapist in northern California, practicing on staff at the Institutes for Health and Healing in San Francisco and Larkspur, and on the campuses of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

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