CASTING THE FIRST STONE was a Blackboard African-American Bestseller for seven months in 2000, and was #1 for four of those months consecutively.
What happens when the pastor of a prominent Baptist church becomes corrupt through money, power, and women? And how does his wife maintain her sanity during the process?
A fresh insightful voice in African-American fiction, Kimberla Lawson Roby has won raves from readers and critics alike. Reviewer’s Bookwatch called BEHIND CLOSED DOORS “a truly uplifting account of struggle and adjustment.” Eric Jerome Dickey, bestselling author Milk in My Coffee, praised the “unforgettable characters” of HERE AND NOW, and called Roby “a true writer, a storyteller at the top of her game.” Now Kim Roby is back with the powerful story of a woman torn between salvaging the marriage which has given her both happiness and heartbreak, and savoring her first sweet taste of independence…
Tanya Black has everything a woman could want: a fulfilling career, a beautiful daughter, an elegant home and a handsome, charismatic husband who is pastor at a prominent Baptist church. And yet, Tanya can no longer deny that the calm surface of her life hides a growing turbulence. Her husband Curtis, once a supportive partner and passionate lover, has grown remote, and Tanya has the uneasy feeling that her comfortable life is about to change forever.
When Tanya uncovers disturbing truths about Curtis, she is plunged into a bittersweet journey of discovery. For while she learns painful new lessons about love, betrayal and sensual temptation, she also discovers, within herself, the wisdom to celebrate the victories that are hers alone.
Like Waiting to Exhale and Brothers and Sisters, CASTING THE FIRST STONE is a rich and compelling story filled with complex characters. Told with humor and unflinching honesty, this wise, moving tale of one woman’s poignant awakening celebrates every woman’s life and establishes Kimberla Lawson Roby as one of the most original African American novelists at work today.
Eight Years Earlier
“I have something real important to tell you,” Curtis said to Tanya, the woman he’d been dating for quite some time now. “Probably one of the most important things I will ever have to tell anyone.”
“Okay,” she said as calmly as she could, but in reality she was about to spill over with curiosity.
“Remember when I told you that I thought God had called me to preach?” he asked.
“Yes,” she acknowledged.
“Well, no matter how hard I’ve tried to ignore it, I know now that I have to accept it.”
Tanya reached out to hug him and they embraced for a few seconds. “I’m really, really happy for you, because I know you’ve been struggling with this for some time now,” she said.
“I always knew it was the right thing for me to do, but I guess I was sort of hesitant because I didn’t want to do anything that would disappoint God. This is a serious commitment, and I didn’t want to accept my calling until I was sure I could be faithful to the pulpit. I know it’s not going to be easy, but Tanya, I really do believe that I can make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
“Honey, I know you can. And you will, so long as you continue to follow God and you always remember to put Him first.”
“My vision is so great. And what I want more than anything is to encourage people to live their lives in the right way and to teach them the word of God so that they truly understand it. So that they truly understand what they have to do in order to be rewarded with eternal life.”
His words were powerful, and Tanya felt a sense of serenity just listening to him. She’d known for the last couple of years that he was destined to be one of God’s leaders. He’d always been a decent person since the day she’d met him, and not once could she ever remember him wanting to party with his friends or do any of the things that most college men seemed to enjoy doing. He was different, and that was the main reason why she’d been so attracted to him. He was so respectable and straight-laced if you will. Which had been fine with her, because alcohol, drugs, and wild parties hadn’t been her forte either.
Curtis continued. “I’m telling you, sweetheart, the sky is the limit to what I can accomplish with my ministry. Who knows, maybe I’ll even become senior pastor at one of the prominent churches here in Atlanta. Or maybe I’ll even build my own church. But more than anything, you know what I eventually would like to do?”
“Become an evangelist, so that I can take my ministry all across the country. And who knows, maybe even to other parts of the world where people are a lot less fortunate than we are.”
“You’ve really got it all planned out don’t you?” Tanya said laughing. Curtis laughed with her. “I guess I do.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, because that’s what will make all the difference in the world for you as a minister. And I want you to know, that I am so proud of you for making this decision.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, because I wasn’t sure how you would react to being with a minister,” he said, grabbing both of Tanya’s hands.
His face was serious, and Tanya wondered what was next on his agenda. You know that I love you, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“And you love me, right?” he asked staring straight into her eyes.
“You know I do. I always have.”
Curtis sighed deeply, moved from the sofa and kneeled down in front of her on one knee. Then he pulled out a small, felt-textured box.
Tanya covered her mouth in disbelief.
“Sweetheart, will you marry me?”
Tanya swallowed hard with tears flowing down her face, but quickly answered his question. “Yes, Curtis. I will.”
He smiled at her, stood to his feet, and pulled her up from where she was sitting. They held each other closely and Tanya felt like melting to the floor when her future husband kissed her. She was so in love with him, and she could tell that his feelings for her were the same. And now he was going to be a minister, and better yet, maybe even a pastor of his own church some day. He was so happy. They were happy together. And Tanya couldn’t imagine life being any better than the way it was for them right now. But best of all, she had a feeling that they were going to be happy with each other forever. And that was the one thing she’d always dreamed of.
Tanya crossed her legs for what seemed like the hundredth time and gazed at her husband in disgust. She’d been sitting as patiently as she possibly could, pretending to pay attention to what he was saying. But the more she listened to his pathetic observations, the more annoyed she became. And just looking at the eight hundred dollar suit, the overpriced dress shoes and the expensive gold watch he was wearing was enough to make any human being puke. She couldn’t believe he actually had the audacity to stand before his 3000-plus congregation, practically demanding that they give more money. Exactly how much more money did he think these people could afford, anyway? The majority of them were already obeying God’s word by paying ten percent of their weekly incomes, and to suggest that they should be giving anything more than that, was simply ridiculous. That is, unless there was a reason for it. An important reason like one of the families being left homeless due to a fire or flood. Or one of the less fortunate members needing assistance with emergency medical bills or help with burying their deceased loved ones. As far as Tanya was concerned, situations like those were fine, but anything else just didn’t seem justified to her. Every Sunday Curtis laid down the same wretched guilt trip, and she was sick of it: “You are robbing God, if you don’t pay your tithes, and He will bless you even more, if you give an additional offering.”
It was so hard to believe that this was the same man she’d married eight years ago. She’d thought for sure that Curtis Black was the man of her eternal dreams. He was intelligent, responsible, attractive, and without a doubt, the most spiritually-grounded man she’d ever made acquaintance with. They’d met during her junior year at Spelman, his senior year at Morehouse and had fallen hopelessly in love with each other from the very beginning. He pursued his bachelor degree in business, and she worked hard on her degree in psychology. Then shortly after they each completed their graduate studies in counseling, Curtis announced that God had called him to preach, and that he wanted her hand in marriage. And for the first six years, they’d been happier than any married couple could have thought possible. Everyone said they were a perfect match, and their friends and family members always raved over how attractive the two of them looked together. Curtis with his tall, broad-shouldered body and deep mocha complexion, and Tanya with her black, bobbed-like hairstyle and medium cocoa skin-tone. But what all their admirers didn’t know, was that not everything that looked good was, and that her and Curtis’s model marriage had long since turned into something very ugly and dreadfully different.
If they all only knew about the horrible rumors that had started only weeks after Curtis was installed as pastor of Faith Missionary Baptist Church, which was located on the south side of Chicago, and how Tanya had purposely tried to ignore each and every one of them-hoping that these rumors were nothing more than vicious lies. That is, until those lies began floating in a mile a minute, from every possible direction, and she’d had no choice accept to believe that at least some of what she was hearing had to be true.
The thought of Curtis sleeping with another woman had always made her cringe, but now Tanya’s pain was slowly turning to rage. She hated the ground that he walked on and everything he stood for. She wished him dead on almost every occasion, and she wasn’t sure just how much more of this facade of a marriage she could actually take. She was sick of him and sick of pretending that they were this perfect couple who loved each other more than life itself. And even worse, she hated him for not spending any time with their six-year-old daughter, Alicia-the same daughter who still worshiped everything that had to do with her father. She didn’t deserve to be neglected by him in that way, and just thinking about how he treated her pissed Tanya off.
Oh, but enough was enough. And as soon as they arrived back at their South suburban home in Covington Park, wife of a pastor or not, she was going to show him a side of her that he’d never ever seen before. Tanya snapped out of her daydream and watched her husband step away from the podium. She couldn’t believe he was still begging for more money.
“We as black people have little, because we think little, and I want you all to know that it’s up to you and I to take care of Faith Missionary Baptist Church,” Curtis said, walking down the center aisle of the beautiful sanctuary, just past the second pew where Tanya was sitting. “If you want me to take you places that you’ve never gone before, then we are going to have to get rid of these stingy attitudes. I can feel them throughout the entire congregation, and it ain’t nothin’ but the devil who is trying to convince you to hold on to those purses and those wallets. Who gave you those purses and those wallets in the first place? And who gave you those good jobs that most of you go to every day? And who gave you a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your table? I’ll tell you who. God did.”
Curtis paused for a moment and shut his eyes. Then he opened them. “God has laid an important message on my heart. He wants me to ask every adult who is here right now to give an extra twenty dollars this morning.”
Tanya noticed some of the members looking around at each other. Some even whispered to the person sitting next to them. And it was obvious that most of them were sick and tired of dealing with this same old Jim Jones-Jim Baker-Jimmy Swaggert-need-more-money sort of mentality. She couldn’t help but wonder just how far Curtis was actually willing to go when it came to getting what he wanted from these innocent people. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that her husband really didn’t have any limitations when it came to anything.
And that was the one thing that frightened her the most.
Right after the Black family changed out of their Sunday-go-to-meeting attire, they each sat down at the kitchen table to eat the barbecued rib dinners they’d picked up on the way home from church. Usually they sat in the dining room for Sunday dinners, but sometimes when they ordered take-out, they ate in the kitchen instead.
“So, baby girl,” Curtis said to his daughter. Did you enjoy the service today?”
“Yes. You preached really good, Daddy,” she said smiling.
Tanya smiled, but only to pacify Alicia.
“And you sounded real good yourself when you lead that song today,” he complimented her. Alicia was a member of the children’s choir.
“Thanks,” she beamed.
“What about you, baby?” he turned his attention to Tanya. “Did you enjoy the service?”
“It was fine,” she said trying to keep her composure, because she didn’t know how much longer she was going to be able to control herself.
“The spirit was really moving through the church today, wasn’t it?” he continued.
“Yeah, I guess it was,” she answered.
“Mom?” Alicia said. “Can I go next door to Lisa’s?”
“I guess, but if they’re in the middle of eating dinner, then I want you to come right back home.”
“I’ll bet they already ate because they get out of church way earlier than we do,” Alicia offered.
Hmmph, Tanya thought. Everybody got out of church earlier than they did. She didn’t know a lot of African-American Catholics, but their next door neighbors never missed mass on any week she could think of. And they were always home before noon every Sunday.
“Okay, but make sure you wash your hands before you go.” Tanya instructed. Alicia did what her mother told her, and then left out of the house in a hurry.
But as soon as Alicia had barely darkened the front doorway, Tanya lit into Curtis like a mad woman.
“You know, Curtis, I don’t know who you think you are, but you are not God’s gift to this earth,” she said, shoving the wooden chair that she was sitting in up to the table as hard as she could. She’d tried to calm herself down during the drive home and then again when they first starting eating dinner, but now she felt like she was going to explode.
Curtis frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what the hell I’m talking about.”
“No. I don’t. And I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t use that kind of language in my house,” Curtis said spooning up a helping of peach cobbler.
Tanya glared at him and wanted to slap that dessert right down his throat. “What do you mean your house?” she asked folding her arms, staring at him. “Because, this house is just as much mine as it is yours. And you’d better get this through your head, too: I’ll say whatever I feel like saying. Whenever I feel like it. You might control those tramps you sleep around with, but you don’t control anything that has to do with me.”
“Lord have mercy,” Curtis said squinting his eyes at Tanya. “This ain’t nothin’ but the devil tryin’ to come between us, because Lord knows I haven’t been sleeping around with any women?”
“Curtis, please. I mean, why is the devil always responsible for everything when it comes to you getting caught up in your mess? And, if that’s the case, then let me ask you this. Is he responsible for you laying up with practically every woman at the church who will have your little jack-leg preachin’ ass?” Tanya said and was shocked at her own words. She’d hadn’t spoken so profanely since college, and even more so since she became a minister’s wife, and she wasn’t proud of it. But it was just that she’d had it up to here, there and everywhere with Curtis’s sleeping around with all these women. She didn’t have one ounce of proof, but that was only because he was always so smooth, slick, and secretive with his wrongdoings. But she knew what he was up to, because he’d long stopped satisfying her in bed, and to tell the truth, their lovemaking was nonexistent. And no man, especially one who was as high-natured and passionate in bed as Curtis, could go without sex week after week, and lately, month after month. No. Pastor Curtis Jasper Black was definitely getting his needs fulfilled somewhere else. She was sure of it.
Curtis looked at his wife like she was crazy. “Why are you doing all that cursing?”
“Now, which do you think is worse, Curtis? Me using the word hell and a-s-s or you running around all over town committing adultery? See, that’s the thing with you, you’re always pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong when all along, you’re doing something much worse. And to think you’re the head of a prominent Baptist church. Please.”
Curtis shook his head in confusion. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I’m going to pray for you. Maybe we need to pray together, so the devil can loosen his hold on you.”
“What’s gotten into me is that I’m sick of hearing all these rumors about you and these women, and I’m sick of you coming into this house sometimes as late as midnight and one o’clock in the morning. Claiming that you’ve been doing the work of the Lord. Claiming that you were at some Baptist ministers’ meeting. Claiming that so-and-so needed you at the hospital all evening to pray for their dying soul. Or that Mary, Sue, and Jane needed you to pray for their gangbanging son. Yeah right,” she said throwing the last of the dinner dishes into the dishwasher.
Curtis sighed deeply and then stood up from the table. “Look, I’ve had enough of this. And I won’t be spoken to this way in my own house. I’m the head of this house, and you will respect me whether you want to or not. A wife has a place, and she should stay in it. And I’m only going to tell you this one last time. I’m not sleeping around with any women. I love you and Alicia, and I would never betray my family. Regardless of what you and any of the rest of those gossipy women at church think. They’re just jealous, and the sooner you figure that out, the better off we’ll be.”
“Jealous of what, Curtis?”
“Jealous of the way you dress, the kind of house you live in, and that brand-new Lincoln Navigator that you drive around in every day. The ones who are talking are the ones who wish they were in your shoes.”
She couldn’t believe how shallow and superficial he was when it came to petty luxuries. And what did material things have to do with anything, anyway? And since she didn’t know, she decided to ask him. “What do material things have to do with you sleeping around, Curtis?”
“Look,” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “I’ve already told you a hundred times. I’m not sleeping around with anybody.”
“Well, then, why don’t you make love to me anymore? Huh? Explain that.”
“Look, I’m under a lot of pressure, and being pastor of a church as large as Faith Missionary involves a lot of hard work. You know how tired I am every evening when I get home. But I promise, things will eventually get better.”
“Maybe when hell freezes over, but then I don’t plan on staying around long enough to see if things will get better or not,” she said wiping the kitchen table.
Curtis laughed sarcastically and shook his head. Then he grabbed his car keys. “I’m out of here. And I hope the devil has turned you loose by the time I get back, because I really don’t want to hear anymore of these paranoid accusations.”
As he turned to walk out of the kitchen, Tanya threw the wet dishcloth and hit him in the back of his head.
“See, that’s why I’m never here. And for the record. Maybe I don’t make love to you anymore, because you’re always doing all that nagging, and it really turns me off.”
“If you were being the faithful husband that you’re supposed to be, then I wouldn’t have anything to nag about. And on top of that, what about Alicia? You hardly spend any time with her, and I’m sick of you neglecting her the way you do,” Tanya said and wanted to cry her eyes out. Partly because of how Curtis was ignoring their daughter, but mostly because he’d actually admitted that she turned him off sexually.
“Look. Alicia knows how much I love her, and she also knows how busy I am with church business. As a matter of fact, she seems to understand that more than you do. And you’re my wife.”
“She’s only a child, Curtis. And she’ll believe anything you tell her because you’re her father. But, I’m not six years old like her. And I know for a fact that there isn’t that much church business going on anywhere.”
“Whatever, Tanya,” he said and opened the door leading to the garage.
“Where are you going?” she yelled behind him. “To lay up with Adrienne Jackson?”
“To lay up with who?” he said, laughing in denial.
“You heard exactly what I said. To lay up with Adrienne Jackson,” Tanya repeated, becoming more angry by the second. She’d heard that Deacon Jackson’s wife was Curtis’s prime-cut mistress, and although Tanya didn’t have proof of it, she couldn’t dismiss what she’d been hearing.
“If you must know, I’m going out to visit some members on the sick list,” he said without looking back at her.
“Liar!” Tanya shouted. But, Curtis shut the door. And it wasn’t long before she heard him driving down the street.
Tanya sat down at the kitchen table and clasped her hands together under her chin. A thousand thoughts circulated through her mind. A part of her wanted to believe that her marriage had a chance, but things were so awful between her and Curtis, that she was starting to seriously doubt it. He didn’t seem to care about her at all anymore, and it had gotten to the place where he found any and every excuse in the book to spend time away from her and Alicia. She was so tired, and even though she was angry, she was hurt. And she was ashamed of the way she had spoken to him. He’d deserved every bit of it, but that wasn’t her usual way of handling things. Her parents hadn’t raised her that way, but as of late, she hadn’t been able to control the way she felt, much less the things she said. Not to mention the violent and conniving thoughts she’d been having. The kind of thoughts that were totally against any and everything she believed in. She’d been sure that marrying a minister would guarantee her complete happiness, because it certainly had for her Aunt Margaret in Memphis, but now she knew that not every minister was sincere, and that some were merely playing with God. She regretted ever going out on a first date with Curtis. As a matter of fact, the only positive thing she’d gotten out of this whole ordeal was her sweet, little, innocent Alicia. And as much as she wanted to divorce Curtis, she knew she had her to consider. She didn’t know how much longer she could sleep in the same bed with Curtis, but she knew she had an obligation to her daughter. Which meant she had no choice except to continue living a life of complete turmoil until Alicia turned eighteen. Which, unfortunately, wasn’t going to be until twelve years from now.
Tanya grunted at her last thought, and then heard the phone ringing. She glanced up at the caller I.D., and saw that it was Curtis calling from his cellular phone. She wasn’t in the mood for anymore arguing, and she definitely didn’t want to hear anymore of Curtis’s lying. But she reached and picked up the cordless phone just the same.
“What?” she said in a non-chalant tone of voice.
“Tanya. Look. I’m really sorry for arguing with you, and I’m even more sorry for not spending any quality time with you and Alicia. But I’m telling you. From this day forward, things are going to be different,” he said and paused. Then he continued.
“You sound like you’re ready to divorce me, and that’s not what I want.”
Tanya listened, but she was leery. Especially since Faith Missionary’s bylaws specifically stated that in order for a minister to keep his position as pastor of the church, he had to be married. So, she couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what his real reason for calling was. The real reason he was sounding like he was in beg mode. A mode that The Reverend Curtis Black never thought he needed to shift into for anyone.
She switched the phone from one ear to the other, but didn’t say anything.
“I know you’re upset,” he continued. “But we can work this out. I’ll be home in a couple of hours or so, and we can talk then. Alright?”
“I don’t know that talking is really going to change anything. Because, it’s not like you can take back what you’ve been doing.”
“Tanya. I’m telling you. No matter what you’ve been hearing. I’m not messing around with any other woman. I admit that I have purposely tried to find things to do, just so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time at home, but that’s only because you and I have been having so many arguments. But for the millionth time, I would never sleep with another woman. You and I took vows before God, and I have a commitment to Him, you, and our daughter.”
“Mmm. Hmm,” Tanya said rolling her eyes toward the ceiling in disbelief.
“I’ll talk to you when I get home, okay? And Tanya?”
“What?” she answered irritably.
“I love you.”
Tanya didn’t say anything.
“Did you hear me?”
“I heard you,” she said in a so-what tone of voice.
“You’re not going to say it back, though. Right?”
“Curtis, I think you and I are much too old to be playing these little teenage phone games, and if you want to talk to me, I’ll be here when you get home.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll see you later.”
Tanya hung up the phone and walked outside to check on Alicia.
2. Why do you think Tanya went out of her way, trying to work things out with Curtis? Was it love, obligation, Alicia, etc.?
3. Do you believe that Curtis’s corrupt way of living was a result of some childhood situation?
4. What are your feelings on Tanya’s reaction after finding such disturbing information in Curtis’s office? Would you have reacted the same?
5. Do you agree with Nicole’s decision in terms of not wanting to advise Tanya about her marital situation, even though they were best friends?
6. Do you think Curtis genuinely loved Alicia, and that deep down he really did want to be a good father to her?
7. Why do you think Curtis became so consumed with money, power, and women?
8. Do you think Curtis is an example of many pastors throughout this country? Is Tanya typical of most pastors’ wives? Is Adrienne an example of many women in the church?
9. Prior to reading CASTING THE FIRST STONE, had you ever experienced a similar situation with your own pastor/church leader or do you know someone who has?
10. What do you think is happening with the moral values of Christian leaders in this country and why?
11. Do you believe Curtis wanted to do the right thing, but really couldn’t help doing the things he did? Did he have a problem with sexual addiction or was it that he simply just wanted more than one woman in his life?
12. What do you think is the most serious problem in the church today?
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