It’s about time Christian conservatives started foreclosure proceedings on Hell. That is one piece of theological real estate that is surely bankrupt.
Damning people to hell for their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their reproductive choices and even their political views has enormously negative consequences for human life right now. So many students come to us at Chicago Theological Seminary from Christian conservative backgrounds. They tell horror stories of being told they would go to hell if they did not obey the church, their parents and other authority figures without question. Even when they experienced parental abuse, they dared not tell because they were told that disobedient children deserved punishment. Awakening sexuality, gay or straight, was met with threats of hellfire and damnation.
It is hard for people to pack their bags and leave the theology of damnation. They want to believe in a loving God, but they are fearful. I have found heartbreaking as a pastor and a teach to hear their longing for the love of God and know deep in their hearts they still fear the ultimate condemnation.
The fear of going to hell in the afterlife is a means of controlling people now. It can take years for people to get over the fear of hell and ask for help when they are being mistreated. When I have done Bible studies with battered women, as I have done for years, many of the most religiously conservative are very nervous about asking for help with abuse because they fear they will go to hell for not being “subject” to their husbands. Often they have put up with the physical and psychological abuse for years, fearing not only the judgment of their husbands, but of God.
Hell and damnation is a theology of control. It’s not about God, it’s about power. It’s always the weak, the vulnerable, the young person who is “different,” the sexual minority, the religious “other” and the woman who wants to speak her own mind who are targeted for hellfire and brimstone. Do we see a pattern here?
It’s long past time that Christian conservatives foreclosed on hell. I admire Pastor Rob Bell for having the guts to say that when it comes to God, “Love Wins.” Hellfire and brimstone theologies are all about somebody being owed by somebody else. It’s time to close that account.
The love of God is free.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | Mar 17, 2011 3:42 PM