As a follower of Christ, I have tried to live my faith honestly before my children. I knew if I did, I would be living honestly in front of the rest of the world as well. Even when I was steeped in religion and law I still desired to walk out what I believed to be true so my children would have an ever-present role model. I do not claim to have a perfect success rate. In fact because I spent so many years under a legalistic religious authority I ultimately passed some of that onto my children as well. Still, I believe I have for the most part been conscious of and have tried to own my failures, as well as my successes.
When I walked out of the building of my most recent fellowship for the last time I did not cause a scene. Even though I should have, I did not round-up my brood of five, brush the dust off my feet, and draw attention to the fact I was leaving. I simply did not return. I left because leadership back-tracked on the topic of women in leadership. After the senior pastor died, the new guy called for the resignation of all the pastors (most fellowships would call these elders). A couple weeks later the men were reappointed. They were once again presented as “God’s chosen leaders” for the fellowship but for some unexplained reason God no longer wanted women pastors. Two of my sons followed me out of the building a year or two later. They had their own reasons–one because the fellowship wanted him to repent for being gay, the other after he was sidelined from ministry for questioning leadership about hell. (He’d been leading the youth media team.)
And there you have it–three of the four tenets that matter most to my old fellowship, and possibly the majority of yours. They believe: 1). We’re all going to hell unless we believe the same way leadership believes. 2). Women should be submitted to men not the other way around. And 3). gays (all LGBT people for that matter) are an abomination. The fourth? Tithing.
Ask these same fellowships about the environment, sex trafficking, racial disparity, hunger, or poverty and you’re likely to hear some nonsense about how much they give to foreign missions. Ask who they voted for in the last election and from the majority you will likely hear a long list of republican names because we all know how concerned republicans are about the family and issues like abortion. “And by God, we vote our conscious”.
What is sad is how easily their conscious is hoodwinked.
A long time has passed since I wrote my original posts about hell. (check out the Got Hell tab). I quit talking about it because the notion seemed settled and I thought I should move on to more pressing matters, like the relationship between the Church and LGBT people, or gender disparity in Church leadership, or economic disparity in the world, or our neglect of the planet we were charged to care for. A recent conversation with my son, however, got me thinking about hell again. His “but mom” went something like this–As long as the Church has convinced a person ze* is going to a worse place if ze doesn’t get in the right pew, it has the power to control that person’s thinking to the degree that ze is willing to ignore reason, logic, and often hir* own experiences. In other words–the threat of hell keeps people afraid and fearful people are easily manipulated.
Parents who truthfully love their children turn around and admonish them, humiliate them, bully them or worse shun them, kick them out or subject them to conversion therapy because the parents are afraid. Some are afraid of what others will think, of losing their status or their position in their fellowships. Others, however, are sincerely afraid of hell–afraid their children will go to hell if their children don’t change and afraid they will go to hell if they accept, embrace, comfort, nurture, encourage, defend–in short love–their children just the way they are, just the way Jesus loves them.
I use the example above partly because the relationship the Church has with LGBT people is one of the soapboxes on which I feel called to stand. However, my other reason for using it is every bit as serious. Hell is employed to justify harming others in the short term by directing our focus to “the prize at the end of the race”. Our relationship with LGBT people points that out perfectly. Hanging onto the unbiblical idea of a future unending place of torment (hell) numbs us to the hell we put people through right here and right now. Rather than question authority, or the handful of precepts we’ve been told require our absolute allegiance, some in the Body are willing to go so far as to mentally, verbally, and sometimes physically, beat their own children into submission. These parents willingly destroy their relationships with their own flesh and blood in the name of religion!
When asked, Jesus told the teachers of the law the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Duh, right?! I mean the first four of the Ten Commandments are about giving God Hir proper place in our lives. But Jesus didn’t stop at four. Instead He summed up the next six when He told the teachers of the law, “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These two commandments are not at odds–ever.
We either keep both or we break both. And while in the instant information age we live in our neighbors reach half way around the globe, are most assuredly the faces that stare back at us from across the dinner table each night. If we just read through the bottom six commandments one thing is immediately clear–they are about doing NO HARM. Loving our neighbors doesn’t look like Lamentations, military boot camp or Nazi Germany. Loving our neighbor as our own flesh and blood looks like 1 Corinthians 13. Please, find out the truth about hell before it’s too late. Read the links I provided on the hell tab, or better yet Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Hell on earth is the only hell we’re heading for and the more we reject our neighbors the faster we’re going to get there.
* These pronouns (ze, hir) are used in place of he/she or his/her when the subject could be either or when it is non-gender specific.