Jesus Christ: Terrorist

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

A pastor friend of mine recently posted this status on Facebook: “‘Just follow my rules and behave, and nothing bad will happen to you,’ is the exact opposite of the message of Christ.”

It reminded me that the version of the Christian message I was given growing up as a child was even a bit more terrifying than that. I was told the “Good News” of Jesus could be summed up this way: “Do as I say, and nobody gets hurt.”

As a child, I didn’t question the message. I didn’t understand that the message was essentially the same that bank robbers, hostage takers and other terrorists use to keep their victims in line so they can get their way and control others.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith, that threat is even more menacing, since we are told from the get-go that if we even think about pursuing our God-given sexual orientation or gender identity, or give in to that “twisted gay theology,” or dare to see our differences as a “blessing,” we will get hurt. Of course, the church makes good on its threat to hurt us when we embrace how God has created us. We get criticized, yelled at, abused and finally kicked out of the church because of our failure to do as they believe God commands.

But, what they ultimately mean by getting “hurt” when we can’t keep the terroristic command to conform to compulsive heterosexuality is that we will go to hell. By daring to live into our sexual orientation or gender identity with honesty and integrity, these terroristic Christians warn us we’ll receive the worst “hurt” of all — eternal damnation in the hottest sections of a fiery and never-ending hell.

Ah, Hell …

Ah, hell … that place we like to send the people we don’t like, or the people we disagree with or those who dare to question our beliefs. We love the idea of hell because it’s a place we can consign those who don’t live up to our idea of morality. It’s a place we can put all those people who leave children or dogs in hot cars on a summer day. It’s the place we can put all those people who behead innocent journalists in the name of their bloodthirsty god, not to mention a place for anyone who professes allegiance to such a god. It’s the place we can send our political and religious foes to and feel superior about our own sense of morality.

But, if we believe in the message that Jesus actually did proclaim during his time on earth — y’know, that message that says, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” — how can we justify sending anyone, even those real terrorists who use the threat of pain, economic destruction and death to get their way, to a place of eternal damnation?

For me, a belief in a literal hell where people burn and are separated from God for all eternity, flies in the face of Jesus’ real message of grace that is freely given to everyone whether they “deserve” it or not.

Recently, a couple of good articles about hell — and how many people are beginning to get the idea that it probably doesn’t really exist — have been posted on Facebook. I highly recommend reading both of them to better understand the concept of hell, how it developed, and why it’s not really found within the teachings of either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures.

In this post, author Ken Dahl, gives us a wide ranging history on hell — how the concept was created and why it’s not a biblical concept at all.

The false concept of hell violates the nature of God, which is unconditional Love. It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God. It negates the full power of the cross of Christ. It goes against the testimony of the prophets; it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It violates the scriptures in their original languages. It violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the scriptures in the original languages. It goes against our conscience, and it goes against our hearts.

In this post, Benjamin Corey runs down the five reasons why the idea of hell is losing its cache with Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus is a terrorist.

The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just — but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them.” That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person whod enjoy torturing people.

What the Hell is the Point, Then?

Someone on Facebook, however, made the point that if everyone is saved, if there is no hell and grace is not a one-time-get-it-now-before-you-die kind of offer and God’s reconciling grace can even extend into eternity to save even someone like, y’know, Hitler, what’s the point of Christianity then? What’s the point of doing good, of being good, or evangelizing other people to accept your religion? Most importantly, if we all “get to heaven” when we die, what’s the entire point of salvation?

James Mulholland and Philip Gulley in the book,If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, make a compelling argument for ditching the idea that Jesus died for our sins — that we must believe he died so that God would not hold our sins against us. In short, we’ve been taught that Jesus died to “atone” for our sins. That unless God took the life of his son as a “ransom” for our sins, God would have to hold each of us accountable for those sins. If that’s true, then Jesus had to die to protect us from God! What kind of God is that?

Instead, Mulholland and Gulley argue that the “forgiveness of sin didn’t require the death of Jesus. It only required God’s resolve to forgive. Grace isn’t about Jesus paying for our debts. It’s about God’s removing our transgressions, as far as the east is from the west.”

So, what got Jesus killed? Grace, according to these authors.

“The cross is simply one more sign of humanity’s consistent resistance to grace,” they write. “We silence any messenger who challenges our quest for a favored position.”

Moreover, we love to consign those kinds of messengers to hell, as well. But, once we understand the magnificent gift that grace really is, I think we can no longer believe in either a ransom theory of atonement or in a literal hell. This is no easy task, however, because we love to see those we hate burning in hell for all eternity because of how they treated us or those we love. A gift such as grace, that demands no repentance, no adherence to a particular religion’s set of doctrines and dogmas, and requires no confession of faith, seems deeply unfair to us. In our minds, we have to earn salvation. We have to be worthy of God’s grace.

This, Mulholland and Gulley argue, is exactly the sin we need to be saved from: our self-absorption, our belief that the world revolves around our judgments not just of ourselves, but of the world around us.

“Salvation,” Mulholland and Gulley write, “comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness.”

When Jesus gave us the greatest commandment, telling us to love God with all our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he was simply saying: “Don’t be self-absorbed.” Instead, we must step outside of ourselves and learn how to live into that unconditional love that God has for us, then extend it outward to everyone around us, friend and foe alike.

This kind of love is dangerous because it asks us to give up our ideas that our way of life, our way of belief, or our particular religion is the one, true and only way to reach God. Yes, this kind of view does make evangelism worthless if your goal in telling others about the God you serve is to “convert” them to your belief. If, however, your evangelism is about telling people about a God that offers unconditional love and grace, free of charge, abundantly and wastefully to anyone and everyone who will accept it regardless of human designations of race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, then your evangelism becomes full of purpose — that ultimate Holy purpose to help others find salvation by repenting of their own self-absorption.

As LGBT people, we have been held hostage to the image of Jesus as a terrorist long enough. We have to stop believing in any God that says, “Do as I say and nobody gets hurt.” Instead, we must turn to the true God that says, “Do as I say — love yourself and everyone around you unconditionally — and everyone will be saved.”

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

4 Responses to “Jesus Christ: Terrorist”

  1. Robin Skiff Says:

    Lately Ive been seeing articles about how there is no hell and that Jesus didnt need to die to atone for our sins. I find it interesting that these writers are apparently more spiritually advanced than Jesus Christ! The must be closer to the heart of God and more in tune with the ultimate reality than Jesus is, because Jesus clearly taught that not all humans will be saved, and he prayed fervently to escape his death on the cross, but it was not Gods will.
    Hell: All you have to do is read through Jesus parables. If he didnt believe in a place of eternal damnation, then why did he use the language he did? Matthew 5:27-30 It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Gehenna, in the Greek). Matt. 7:13-14 narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matt. 10:28 Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt. 18:9 it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. I could go on and on through the Gospels and the words of Jesus but you get the point: if Jesus didnt think some people would suffer eternal damnation, why would he use such examples? Obviously he did.
    Some say that word hell isnt in the Bible. Of course not, the Bible wasnt written in English. The word God isnt in the original languages either. Unless you are reading the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, you are reading a translation into a language that uses different words, with different derivations and histories. That is why we have to educate ourselves. I will quickly agree that the popular notion of hell is a fairy-tale, and much of what people think about when they use the word is not supported by the Bible. But just because the popular notion is wrong doesnt mean hell does not exist. The popular notion of heaven is easily just as far from the truth as the popular notion of hell is.
    God made us humans in his own image and likeness. God made us of his own stuffEphesians 1:4 For he [God] chose us in him [Jesus] before the creation of the world Before the world or universe was created, there was only God, and he marked us off in himself in eternity. Gods gift of existence to us is permanent. (Read Abandoned to Divine Destiny by Dr. Jeremy Lopez for more on this.) Gods gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Gods will is certainly that every human be in fellowship and union with him through eternity, or in other words, in Heaven. But God has given us the ultimate say in the matterwill we submit our wills to him, and be included in the Divine fellowship forever, or will we insist on our own will and flee from the presence of God? Gods final mercy to the rebellious is to provide one place in the entire universe where he has withdrawn his presence. One place where those who will not submit their will to his can escape, and that is by definition, hell. (See the writings of C. S. Lewis for this idea, Im not sure in which of his books I read this.) The doctrine of Hell is not that of judgment and damnation, but of Gods love and mercy, which respects our free will to resist his.
    As to Christs atoning death, Jesus prayed fervently My Father, if it is not possible for this cup [his death] to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done (Matt 26:42, see also Mk 14:36, Lk 22:42, Jn 12:27) Several times we read in the Gospels how Jesus faced down a crowd intent on killing him. It is clear that he could easily have avoided his crucifixion if that had been the will of God.
    We who live under the New Covenant, two thousand years removed from the system of sacrificial offering of animals for forgiveness of sins forget how seriously God takes sin (anything that separates us from fellowship with him). But from beginning to end, the Bible makes it clear that only a life will redeem a life. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). The only reason we are under the New Covenant, and no longer offer the blood of animals for our sins, is that our Great High Priest, Jesus the Christ offered his own blood, the perfect sacrifice, one time for all humanity! How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised inheritancenow that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:14-15).
    So please, stop preaching the gospel of Satan, which is no good news at all. Unless you are more spiritually advanced than Jesus Christ, you should take his words and the words of his Apostles seriously. Otherwise, dont bother to call yourself a Christian. God loves you so much that he has already moved heaven and earth to bring you back into fellowship with himself. His will is that all should be saved, and we can be certain that as far as it lies in Gods power, all will be saved. But he has limited himself in this, that we can choose whether or not we will live forever in the embrace of our loving God, or exclude ourselves from that circle of love.
    Robin Skiff
    August 29, 2014

  2. Richard Harris Says:

    Wow, yet another hateful bigot blindly reciting the bible. Go ahead and build walls to live in.

  3. Candace Chellew-Hodge Says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Robin. Personally, I have become convinced that hell is strictly an invention of the theologians and neither the Hebrew or Christian scriptures teach about hell in the sense we believe in it now.

    In Ken Dahl’s excellent piece that I linked to, he goes through why we can’t consider “Gehenna” or “sheol” or the other words translated as “hell” by later biblical scholars to be the kind of eternal fiery hell modern Christians have come to believe in, so I won’t repeat his arguments.

    Suffice to say, I am not invested in arguing to make you “wrong” and me “right.” On my spiritual journey, I, for myself, have come to a place where I cannot believe in a God that would send anyone to hell for an eternity.

    Yes, I realize that God has perhaps “limited” himself and accepts our decision to not believe or come to God during our lifetime, but just as grace could be extended into eternity, I guess our free will could be extend there as well. Perhaps God is still working on us, trying to change our minds even into eternity.

    Jesus told parables of lost coins and lost sheep to show just how eternal God’s desire is to find us and bring us back into the fold. Why can’t that concern, that frantic search to reconcile us all with God continue into eternity? Why must it be an offer we have to accept before death? I mean, God is God after all, right?

    Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong and I’m right, because I will admit that I don’t know. Hell could be real and I could certainly be wrong. It’s simply that I can’t give honest praise and worship to a God that is incapable of saving every person or overcoming the evil in the world with his love and grace. That seems like a pretty small and petty God to me. So, I choose to worship an expansive God who has the ability to ultimately overcome evil, even if it’s in the realm of eternity.

    Richard, thank you for checking in, but I don’t think we can truly advance a dialogue with others by simply calling them names.


  4. Rae Says:

    This has really helped me, along with the articles listed here, to truly come back to God and want to love and serve him. The reason I left Christianity in the first place was because I could not accept the idea of eternal torture for *anyone*, and I actually said I’d rather be in hell than in heaven praising the God who made it. But that is NOT my God. Since I was little, I wanted to serve God. And then that passion went away when the reality (or not) of hell came up. Rejecting the traditional view of hell is the only way I can renew my faith in God, and I’m so glad that more people are thinking this way and backing up their beliefs rather than following an old and hateful idea that does NOT fit with God’s love and mercy.

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