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Chapter 18: News Conference

Parsonage
A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint

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The press did not ignore Jessi when she exited the court house. In addition to her being a key figure in the drama which had just taken place, she was attractive, articulate, and poised. All the old hands in the news-gathering business knew in a flash that she would look great on camera and in press photos.

As she walked down the court house steps, the first to reach her was the ABC team headed by their White House correspondent, Rex Canfield. Canfield had been traveling by helicopter from Washington to New York when news of the strange goings-on in south central Pennsylvania reached him by phone. Within minutes he was on the ground and racing by taxi to the court house.

Jessi gulped when she looked down and saw the familiar ABC logo clipped to a mike being held by a man she had seen on the ABC nightly news numerous times. "Jessi, can you tell us what happened inside the court room between you and Carla Stetson," asked the newsman smoothly. He'd been well briefed while still on the chopper, including the fact that Jessica Hogan preferred to be known as Jessi.

"She jumped one of the officers and got his gun. Then she began waving it around and threatened to shoot five or six of us." Jessi's throat got tight at the memory of what happened next. "When my Dad and a lot of my friends started praying out loud, she put the gun in my mouth and screamed that if everyone didn't stop praying, she was going to shoot me right away." Tears were trickling from the corners of both eyes and she turned away from the correspondent to wipe her face.

Canfield filled while Jessi regained her composure. "For those who just tuned in, we're talking live with Jessi Hogan outside the county court house in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Just moments ago, the mother of the victim in a sexual assault case being tried here went berserk . . . " After the update, the ABC correspondent turned to Jessi again with the standard "how did you feel?" question.

"I was scared to death, of course," Jessi answered simply. "And a gun barrel tastes terrible."

"I'm sure it does," chuckled Canfield. Then he came back with a more substantive question. "I understand the gun Carla was using, a Smith & Wesson Police Special, I believe it was-- this police revolver misfired five times in succession. Do you have any idea how something like that could happen?"

"As far as guns are concerned, I know less than nothing. I've never even fired one in my life. But--" The newsman had started to speak but quickly moved the mike back below Jessi's chin. "But I do know something about the power of God. And what just happened in there was a miracle from God's hand. Nothing more, nothing less."

Canfield, knowing he was broadcasting live with no chance for editing before this scenario got on the air, was visibly uncomfortable with the turn this interview had taken. But Jessi wasn't shy about stating her beliefs. As the ABC mike started to move away from her chin, she gently placed her hand above the news man's hand and eased it back into its original position.

"I just want to say one more thing. I know there will be tests to see why that gun didn't shoot, or why the bullets didn't go off. And I'm positive those tests will show that the gun and the bullets are perfectly okay. That gun didn't go off while it was in my mouth because God wouldn't let it go off. And God wouldn't let it go off because of the prayers of my Mom and Dad, and all my friends who were in there with me."

Canfield gave Jessi a sincere but off-camera wink as he regained control of the mike. "We'll be back with more from the Cumberland County Court House in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but now back to New York. Peter?"

Jessi just had time to wipe her face and blow her nose when a Fox News mike was thrust under her chin. The correspondent was a young woman with red hair and a well-concealed Georgia accent. She introduced herself as Joy Apple. "Tell me about your sweat shirt. I see a lot of the young people who were in the parade a while ago are wearing this kind of shirt. Does it have any significance?"

Proudly Jessi told about the Ivory Club and the lady from Fox News seemed genuinely interested, not restive and anxious to move on to another more news-worthy topic. "Does this mean that all of you are virgins and plan to be until you get married?" asked Joy.

"Part of that is true," said Jessi, happy to tell any one who would listen about Ivory. "All of us have taken a vow of celibacy until we marry. That part is true. But Ivory only deals with the future, not the past. So the primary issue is celibacy for the future, not virginity in the past. Right? Celibate, and proud of it. Aren't we guys?" Several Ivory members had gathered around Jessi and Joy Apple during the interview. Their support of the concept of celibacy until marriage was spontaneous and enthusiastic.

True to the Fox News style of coverage, Joy was unhurried and thorough in her efforts to learn more about Ivory and the idea of celibacy until marriage. "I understand that celibacy support groups are a growing thing on high school and college campuses. Would you mind if we put your name and address up on the screen so our viewers can contact you if they'd like information on starting such a group in their community?"

"Love to," responded Jessi, thrilled to see information about Ivory on national TV.

As soon as Joy Apple and her camera team moved on to interview Jim Hogan, a print reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer asked Jessi for an interview. This time the questions focused on what Ivory did for its members in support of their continued celibacy. "One of the main things we do," explained Jessi, "is help kids from lighting the fuse in the first place when they first start a relationship. Back when I was in junior high, my dad-- that's him over there, talking with the Fox News reporter, my dad gave a little talk on sex for our youth group at church. He called a guy and a girl up to the front of the church and he gave the guy a big fircracker with a fuse about this long--" and she held her hands about ten inches apart. Of course the firecracker was a fake, just a towel roll covered with aluminum foil. The fuse was real, though. Then he gave both of them a pair of asbestos gloves, and they each had to wear a lab apron, too, to protect their clothes.

"Then he said that this was their first date and they were alone. He lit the fuse and told them to pass it back and forth until he said stop. When he said 'stop', the one who didn't have the firecracker had to pinch out the lit fuse with the gloves. Then he said they were on their second date and he lit the fuse again. And again they passed the fake firecracker back and forth until he said 'stop', and they pinched out the fuse again, too.

"Well, after they did this a couple times, the fuse started getting really short. The next time when he said 'stop', the guy had the firecracker and the girl had to pinch out the fuse. But just when she started to pinch if out, BAM! there was an explosion. Actually, it was my mom sticking a pin in a big balloon back stage. It sure made everybody jump!. Made us think, too. Later, Dad said that kissing and petting on a date was like passing that firecracker back and forth. Sooner or later the fuse will get short and BAM! an explosion. I never forgot that lesson with the firecracker."

"So that's what you tell your members?" asked the reporter. "No kissing and no petting?"

"Definitely no petting. That has its place in a marriage relationship because it prepares a couple for having sex. But it has no place for people who are not married."

"What about no kissing?" persisted the reporter. "Isn't that a little unrealistic?"

"We encourage kids to limit kissing to a form of communication. I have a boy friend and we kiss to say hello. We kiss to say good-bye. And we kiss to say we care for each other. But we don't make kissing a major activity on a date. That kind of kissing is for the purpose of sexual arousal and that's just like petting."

By this time, several reporters had gathered and were either writing furiously in their notebooks or poking boom mikes in Jessi's direction as she found herself the center of attention at her own impromptu news conference.

"What makes you such an authority on human sexuality?" asked a young woman in the back row, and her question was covered with the slime of sarcasm.

"I'm not an authority, in a general sense, that is," answered Jessi pertly. But I am an authority on what God has to say about human sexuality, because I read the book!" and she held up her NIV Bible with a pink leather binding.

"How do you know you're interpreting the Bible correctly," asked another reporter in the same vein of sarcasm. "Have you attended seminary?"

"No, not a formal seminary," responded Jessi while keeping a smile on her face and in her voice. Underneath, she was a lot more tense than her behavior displayed and she prayed constantly for the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. As she talked to the reporters, Jim and Debra, Dave and Patricia, Paul Donaldson, and all the Ivory kids made a big circle which enclosed Jessi and her questioners. Silently and unobtrusively everyone moved into position, and then they all joined hands. The average observer couldn't tell by looking or listening, but Jessi knew in her heart that once again this band of prayer warriors was lifting a volume of prayer on her behalf.

This time, the enemy wasn't in the form of a demon-possessed woman with a lethal weapon. This time she was taking her stand against liberal members of the press. And every prayer warrior in the circle was determined that she hold the banner of normalcy, and decency, and scriptural holiness high.

"What do you mean, 'not a formal seminary'?" asked another print reporter"

"I was raised in a parsonage," declared Jessi proudly, "and I learned what the Bible says from day one."

"And I suppose you were taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin," sneered still another reporter. What had started as a neutral interview was turning into something more gritty as more and more reporters gathered inside the circle of prayer warriors.

"Yes, I was taught that. And I was taught that because it's precisely what the Bible says," answered Jessi archly.

"And how do we know that's what the Bible says?" persisted another reporter. "Why should we believe you, just because you're a preacher's kid?" Well I, for one, don't believe a word of it!"

"Big mistake," whispered Jim to Debra as Jessi whipped her Bible out from under her arm and flipped it open. "Now watch this!"

"You can certainly ignore what I say. After all, I'm nobody special. But you can't ignore what the Word of God says. Here, let me show you," and Jessi performed the manual of arms flawlessly on the topic of God's requirement that all human sexuality must to limited to a heterosexual marriage. From Leviticus to Romans to Corinthians and back again, expertly she cited verse after verse which pounded home the ageless truths of sexual purity. She found each verse in a whir of riffled pages. She used a carefully manicured forefinger to point to the exact point on each page where the verse began, and she quoted each verse from memory, complete with book, chapter, and verse.

Many of the reporters began to warm to Jessi, in spite of their liberal leanings. Here was a born-again Christian who didn't fit their stereotype. They liked the way she staunchly stood up for her beliefs and backed up those beliefs with a dazzling display of Biblical swordsmanship. Before long, a Fox News cameraman was poking the snout of his minicam right down on the pages of Jessi's NIV as she pointed out each verse while quoting it. And when Jessi realized what the minicam operator was up to, she played to the camera, holding the Bible at a better angle so he could get a good shot.

Meanwhile, the prayer warriors on the perimeter of the ad hoc news conference maintained their silent volume of prayer. Jim turned to Debra and they exchanged smug smiles. They had never been more fiercely proud of their daughter as they were right now.

Quickly the media people tired of harassing Jessi and her conservative convictions. A few hung around to ask another taunting question or two but Jessi still held her ground. In fact, at no point in the entire exchange did any of the crafty and experienced news people penetrate her defense. "If I was an Olympic boxing judge," said Dave to Patricia, "I'd say she definitely won all three rounds!" Everyone around the prayer circle agreed. Jessi just smiled and said, "To God be the glory."

Immediately after the court house drama ended, the State Police collected the gun Carla had attempted to use, as well as the five rounds of ammunition which had refused to fire. The gun was stripped, inspected, reassembled, and taken immediately to the outdoor firing range. There, a State Police weapons specialist, Sergeant Elmer Zimmer, fired one hundred rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger and reload. Total number of misfires. Zero. In fact, Zimmer claimed the gun Carla had tried to use not only failed to misfire, it worked as smoothly and fired as accurately as any Smith & Wesson .38 Police Special he had used in thirty years of police work.

With the prior approval of Judge Swartzendrubber and the district attorney, Zimmer loaded the gun with the five rounds which failed to fire during the attempted massacre. With the Pennsylvania State Police Commandant looking on, the sergeant snapped the gun closed, assumed the firing position, and ripped off five quick shots. Not one misfire!

 

That night at nine forty-five, the entire Hogan household plus Paul, Dave, Patricia, and Jon King were gathered in the parsonage family room to watch a Fox News special summarizing all that had happened in Carlisle during the day. Ben and Shelley were bubbling with excitement and vowed they would be wide awake for the entire sixty minutes.

"Can you believe it?" squealed Shelley. Jessi's gonna be on TV!"

That was Ben's cue to hop off the arm of the couch where he had been perched while pestering Dave. He and Shelley joined hands to perform one of their ritual chants as they pranced around the area of the carpet where Jessi and Jon were resting with their heads propped on throw pillows.

"Jessi's on TV! Jessi's on TV!" they sing-songed over and over again.

"Yes, and you won't see her if you don't settle down," warned Debra.

But still the twins chanted, too excited to settle down. "Jessi's on TV! Jessi's on TV!"

Debra began a deliberate and measured count. "One . . . two . . . " Before she got to three, the twins were up on the couch between Dave and Patricia, knowing full well that if Mom every reached five in such a count, her promise would become their reality.

Then it was ten o'clock and the program began with what appeared to be a standard advisory for parents of young children, warning that some of the scenes might be too graphic for young viewers. After the warning, the announcer said something rather mysterious, Jim thought. "For the first fifteen minutes of this program, we will be showing you rare and exclusive footage of today's events in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This segment will not be interrupted by commercial announcements. We advise you not to change the channel during this period or you may miss pictures which are not available to any other network, and which we may very well never show again. At the end of this special segment, you'll get a chance to meet the people responsible for this spectacular camera work." Jim glanced at the VCR on the shelf under the TV. The red "record" tally light glowed, confirming that the tape was running in the record mode.

The special segment began with a blank screen and no audio. After about ten seconds of dead air with nothing on the screen but the Fox News logo glowing in the lower right corner. Suddenly a ghoulish scream ripped out of the TV's speaker and the twins went scampering into their dad's lap, eyes wide and lips trembling. Jim felt an electric charge begin at the base of his spine and terminate in the short hairs at the back of his neck. Everyone in the room gasped as a picture gradually came into focus which showed a glaring and blood-stained Carla crouching on Judge Swartzendrubber's bench and reaching for his throat.

Thus began the most amazing real-life scenario ever shown on national television. Somehow, someone had gotten a television minicam into the court room that morning and had recorded every lurid detail of what had happened. There was Carla, with a firm hold on each arm of the judge's chair, violently slamming it against the wall, over and over again. There were the officers, finally snapping a cuff on one of Carla's arms. Then the camera zoomed in on the gun being filched out of the officer's holster and hidden in the bunched waistband of Carla's skirt. And there she was, pulling the gun out of her waistband and pressing the muzzle of the gun firmly against Jessi's forehead.

Following Carla's opening scream, the audio had been killed as the camera mutely depicted the horrible events. As Jim remembered it now, Carla had been spewing such a flow of non-stop expletives, it couldn't be shown on television, even by the most liberal of standards. Now the audio began to come up and praying could be heard in the background. And there was the muzzle in Jessi's mouth and Carla was identifying her victims one by one. Preacher's Kid . . . Big Belly . . . Old Baldy . . . Preacher Man . . . Kink Head . . .

When the audio was potentially intelligible but not fit for broadcast, it was kept too low to be understood, with voiceover commentary. But the rest of the time, the sounds were clear and easily understood. Jim's eyes misted over at the first misfire with Jessi slumping to the floor. And there was Dave's lean, hard body flying through the air like an arrow. And then it was all over but the shouting. And that was there, too. "Awesome God" was even more awesome on national television than it had been live. The realization that major portions of the civilized world were seeing the power of God overcome the power of Satan was indeed awesome. There it was in its entirety. Every note of "Awesome God". Every link in the victory chain. Every circumnavigation of the court house.

The network cut to commercial and Jon muted the audio with the remote control so they could talk. Jim spoke first. "The Bible says that every eye will see Him when He returns to earth in triumph. I think we just got a sneak preview of just how easily that will be done."

"Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus," said Paul reverently.

Everyone said "Amen", including the twins, who were still wide awake.

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