I missed the memo about Hell, heresy, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
It’s Christmas night, so come all ye faithful and ruminate with me about a bit of Christian theology that I’ve been turning over in my heart and head for the last couple of weeks. If you’ve got an hour, go listen to this episode of This American Life which tells the story of the Bishop Carlton Pearson who was once a rising star of the Pentecostal Church, but has since fallen from grace for preaching what he calls The Gospel of Inclusion. It’s a riveting story that I can’t do justice here, but it’s stuck with me and probably will for a long, long time.
Through his own study and reflection, Bishop Pearson came to the conclusion that there is no Hell, at least not in the fire and brimstone sense. Instead, Hell is sort of “No Exit-y“. We create Hell here on Earth through war, violence, cruelty and all the awful stuff we’re capable of as human beings. Bishop Pearson figured out that there is no Hell, per se, because no one is going to Hell. And no one is going to Hell because the birth, life, and death of Jesus resulted in de facto salvation for all of humanity. Let that sink in…no one has to tell you the Good News, you don’t have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior…it’s a done deal. It’s the ultimate Grandfather clause. (Or would that be a Godfather clause?)
Being a theological simpleton, I found a lot of comfort in Bishop Pearson’s ideas, but apparently they don’t jive too well with the Pentecostal tradition, so he basically got kicked out of the church that had been his home pretty much his whole life. Seriously, he was declared a heretic. I had naively assumed that declaring people heretics went out of fashion around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, but apparently it’s still a thing. Not to be a total cynic, but I’m guessing Bishop Pearson’s heresy comes down to the fact that the Gospel of Inclusion is bad for business. If people are already saved, then there’s no reason to work particularly hard at, and more importantly, spend any money, on being a Christian.
Even though Bishop Pearson is a heretic and all, I see a lot of wisdom in the Gospel of Inclusion. There are a lot of good Christ-like people in the world who don’t call themselves Christians, and I like the idea that all those people are not damned to burn and gnash their teeth for all eternity and whatnot. I also like the idea that as a Christian myself, I’m off the hook for saving other people. Not that I get a free pass to be an asshole, but maybe trying to be a good person is enough.
Anyway, I can’t claim to have anything totally figured out, but I’m going to spend some time enjoying the idea that we’re all in this together, and whatever comes after life, maybe we’re all included in that, too. Merry Christmas and memo received.
Bishop Pearson is not alone, and neither are you. I’m glad to serve a church that proudly welcomes everyone, and most of us think God does too.
I can’t fathom a God who would go to such great lengths to love us and save us over and over again, only to turn around and condemn us on a technicality. Such a god seems too petty to be worthy of our worship.
However, that doesn’t let us off the hook for our behavior. If we are all in this together, then our actions shape both heaven and hell, which demands our everything for God.