“Freaky like the daughter of a pastor,” Common emceed in his 2005 concubine ode, “Go!”—only one of several musical references to the infamously torrid preacher’s kid (or PK, affectionately). Back in the days, I was a stereotypical PK: rebellious, dangerously curious and sex-obsessed. I used to sneak my boyfriend through the bedroom window, and for those few hours I was an indulgent, American teenager; no glaring church folk to watch my every move, and no father, son or Holy Ghost to judge me.
But how did the children of such a sexually reserved culture become ambassadors of lasciviousness? From biblical text to the worship experience, Christianity is inundated with sexual themes, and PKs face the challenge of finding their sexual identities while wading through both the sexual suppression of the Christian church and the sexual oppression of mainstream society.
Like so many PKs, I grew up listening to endless sermons that proclaimed sexual desire the root of worldly evil. Preachers often focused on ominous scriptural references to advocate anti-sex campaigns. In the Bible, a verse in the book of Jude asserts that if you are sexually immoral, you will burn in eternal fire. (Chapter 1, verse 7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, having, in the same way as these, given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.”)
I grew up in the old-time religious movement, in churches mostly led by Jamaican immigrants who cleaved desperately to their native culture, where young people focused on Jesus and education. These ministers were determined to protect their children from America’s vulgarities, so they vilified sex. There was little differentiation between adultery, fornication and marital intimacy. If you had sex, you died. If you had sexual thoughts, you were fated to an Old Testament-style thrashing.
I belonged to a clique of PK-refugees who felt alienated from what we perceived as the normal world, a life of school dances and Prince (in his “Insatiable” days). We viewed sex as a forbidden act, as preachers rarely referenced scriptural passages that celebrated intimacy. The erotic, Shakespearean-style musings of Song of Solomon were taboo: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine, for example.
The Bible is a literary harem. Delilah seduced Samson, sold him out to the Philistines and he died. King David watched Bathsheba (a married woman) taking a bath and wanted her so much that he impregnated her, sending her husband to the battlefront where he died. And then there’s the Samaritan woman at the well who recognized Christ but also had five husbands and a lover.
On Sundays—sometimes even Wednesdays and Fridays—PKs live in the spiritual realm. But for the rest of the week, they live in “the World.” I grew up in Miami during 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be era, back when Uncle Luke was the patron saint of promiscuity, Miami bass music was a bump-and-grind commandment and South Beach was an underground railroad for illegal immigrants and harlots. For me it was the Promised Land, and Jesus couldn’t compete.
Many ministers were adamant that believers live in the World without being of the World… but how do you do that? Forbidden fruit seemed far more exciting than fire and brimstone rhetoric. As much as I enjoyed the World as a young adult, once I formed an intimate relationship with Jesus, I often struggled with feelings of guilt after having sex.
PKs face an ongoing battle between flesh and spirit that mirrors the church’s ongoing battle between flesh and spirit. Worship services can be extremely sensual. Where I grew up, a sullen church service could suddenly transform into a spiritual orgy.
Catching the Holy Ghost is a sacred moment when many believers describe transitioning into a state of ecstasy climaxed with an ephemeral release from sickness, worry and other human ailments. My PK comrades and I often mocked members who caught the Spirit, mimicking composed church folk who suddenly metamorphosed into zombies—chanting, dancing, jumping up and down. We watched as women’s hats flew through the air and slips crawled from underneath skirts as they holy danced with men not their husbands.
Over the years, I’ve developed a relationship with the enigmatic ghost (who I believe is my conscience), and when I’m completely plugged into a hymn or a prayer, I experience bliss so intense, I weep. But I still think some churchgoers feigned catching the Holy Ghost as an excuse to express their hidden desires. I’ve seen seasoned worshippers fondle visitors. But this behavior doesn’t mean they don’t love God. The war on flesh is a constant battle no matter how long you’ve been worshipping.
In the 1972 Jamaican crime film The Harder They Come, there’s a moment where the director shifts back and forth between a Holy Ghost-infused choir scene and a love scene featuring two of the choir members (one of them a PK). This teetering between spirituality and sexuality isn’t just a PK war. Every believer is destined to walk through the un-promised land where flesh and spirit coexist as enemies and lovers. Closing in true PK fashion, I’ll paraphrase the Bible: Galations chapter 5 verse 17 says that the flesh and the spirit lust against each other; this contradiction is both a blessing and a curse.
Dinkinish O’Connor is an award-winning writer whose food sojourns have taken her everywhere from the shantytown bistros of Kingston to the gnarly vineyards of Bordeaux. She’s written for Wine Spectator, Condé Nast Traveler, The Miami Herald and other publications. To see what’s happening in Dinkinish’s sumptuous little world, check out “Gourmet Squatter,” her blog that explores how to sip high on a low budget.