Doubting faith, hell, a friendship strained via LGBT, and “Should I join this church?”

Here are four questions recently in and my responses to them.

I’ve been doing a lot of questioning as of late, what with the rise in atheism and wondering if I’m a fool for even believing in something intangible like God. This questioning has really been cutting into me and is very painful. My question to you is: how important is faith to us as humans? Is it really that damaging to believe in the spiritual aspect of life, despite that science cannot explain it?

Of course it’s not damaging to believe in things science cannot explain. Science can’t “explain” love, and love, as they say (when they’re speaking metaphorically, of course) makes the world go round. At any rate, the pertinent question here isn’t how important faith is to humans. What matters is how important faith is to you. It sounds to me like you want to believe in God. Then do! I do, and I guarantee you I think as critically as any atheist you’ll ever meet. Since as of this writing only a complete dink would claim to actually know whether or not God exists, why not assume he/she/it does? The main thing is to pick a lane. Step into both (or a third, if you want to try agnosticism), see which one feels best, trust that intuition, and start running. See where it takes you.

Mr. Shore, I follow you on Facebook and have read your book, I’m OK – You’re Not and sometime this week, I should receive from Amazon UNFAIR: Why the “Christian View of Gays Doesn’t Work. I find your posts to be informative, humorous, and intelligent. I am straight, always have been, always will be. I have a gay relative who always has been, and always will be, gay. I have numerous gay friends who have tried to be straight and failed, because it’s not who they are. But I also have a Christian friend who continues to try to assure me that, when it comes to gay people, what’s right is to hate the sin and love the sinner. Despite every single time I have told her that I will not budge on this issue, she continues to send me messages about how she prays for me to see the truth, how she is in tears for me and my refusal to follow the Bible. I am at a point where I am ready to cease all contact with this person. I just can’t stand to hear or read anymore about how discrimination wrapped in “love” and Biblical misrepresentation is right thing to do. Can you give me a kind response for my friend? Because I can’t be kind right now. I’m unable to respond lovingly anymore. Help?!

Well, you obviously have to decide whether or not you any longer want this person as a friend. It sounds to me like you don’t. (And I don’t blame you: I can tell you that I wouldn’t be friends with her. “I’m in tears over your refusal to follow the Bible” would boot her right off my Christmas card list.) If you don’t want her as a friend anymore, stop responding to her emails. She’ll soon enough stop sending them; either way, it doesn’t take long to hit the Delete button. If at some point she asks why you’ve stopped responding to her messages, tell her you’ve found that life’s too short to keep hopping aboard the same not-very-merry-go-round. Just fade her out of your life, basically.

If you do want to keep her as a friend, then … then why?

Dear Mr. Shore,

Though I desperately want to believe that Hell doesn’t exist, that seems way too good to be true. I’ve been traumatized by the concept of Hell since I was a kid. I was always looking at people on the street and thinking of how they were unaware of their impending doom, and that people around the world were dying every second and ending up irrevocably in the unquenchable fires of Hell. It sent me into an evangelical frenzy (and then massive suicidal depression when preaching at people just got me mocked). A pastor I spoke with about this issue told me to just trust that God’s judgement would be fair, and not to worry about these things. So I tried pushing it aside—and then made more atheist friends, who gave me hope that maybe they were right and there was no eternal torment in store for most people.

But now for the first time in ages I’ll be joining a Christian small group study, and in past sessions they’ve apparently been talking a lot about Hell and salvation. I really don’t want to reopen those wounds again. But it does feel like not believing in hell is maybe just making excuses not to hear the uncomfortable parts of Christianity, and to instead just stick to the happy, God-is-love stuff. But I’m also afraid that Hell just might be the kicker that turns me away from Christianity for good (which is saying a lot, after all I’ve gone through being an LGBT Christian). There are times I don’t want to be a Christian just so I don’t have to believe in Hell. Help? Is there any spiritually-based argument against Hell, that isn’t easily dismissed as twisting the Bible to mean whatever makes you happy? Alternatively, how do the bulk of Christians who do believe in Hell manage to go about their lives as functional human beings, even capable of friendly chatter with supposedly hell-bound non-Christians, instead of suffering from the constant weight of crushing despair and helplessness?

It’s been my experience that the reason Christians who believe in hell aren’t constantly freaked out over all the people they believe are going there is that the fact that they think they’re not going there is more than enough for them. As yes, there is a spiritually-based argument against Hell that isn’t easily dismissed as twisting the Bible to mean whatever makes you happy. I wrote it. It’s called Hell No! Extinguishing Christian Hellfire. It’s short, tight, has been generously quoted by Rob Bell, and is right now on sale for $2.99 on Kindle; or it’s $3.99 on Nook. (And if you don’t have a Kindle you can download here for free a Kindle reading app which will allow you to read any Kindle e-book on pretty much anything with a screen.)

I’m from a super-liberal community in [big American city]. My family’s Jewish, but I didn’t grow up with any religious education. I became a Christian a few years ago (partly from the influence of my now-wife, who grew up in a fairly conservative but loving Christian home ). I attend my wife’s church, which is small, low-key and intimate. Since becoming a Christian I’ve become even more of a raving liberal than I was before. I read your blog daily, along with several other Christian lefty blogs. I argue with my conservative friends, and talk to my wife about homosexuality regularly. (She no longer thinks it’s a sin, but still feels a bit conflicted on how to express her feelings to others.)

My question for you is this: I am trying to decide whether or not to become a member of my church. I want to be a member because I’d like to be more involved in the community, and I know that being a member will help me do this. However, while the pastor never preaches on homosexuality, I know for a fact that he and many other people in the church (most all of whom I like!) believe that it’s a sin. They also hold conservative views on women in leadership and a couple other issues. I don’t know what to do because gay marriage and rights is such an important issue for me, but I love my church and want to be a part of it. I just don’t know if I can reconcile these two issues. I keep going back and forth as to what I’m going to do but still haven’t decided. I’m stuck. Can you provide any advice? P.S. Thanks so much for all the work you do– never give up! You’re doing God’s work.

Thanks for kind words about my work!

I can only tell you what I would do. I’d leave that church. First of all, they’re lying. If they believe that homosexuality is a sin, then why aren’t they preaching it? And they don’t think women are fit to serve as clergy? Dude, that’s one seriously conservative church. I just can’t see how you, a true liberal, could ever be happy giving such a church your devotion, energy, and money. I vote that it’s time for you (and, I would hope, your wife: it’d be weird for you guys to go to different churches) to go church shopping. Why marry someone you don’t love?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Excellent responses, John.

  • Paul Kenney via Facebook

    Well done, as usual.

  • Thank you so much, John. I think that’s what I needed to hear.

  • Dennis Dawson

    Love the sender, block the email.

  • Eva Leppard via Facebook

    ‘pick a lane’- love it!

  • Can’t recommend the “Hell, No!” book more highly for those struggling with the concept of Hell. Great responses, John. 🙂

  • Don Rappe

    Great answers, Captain!

  • Warren Adams-Ockrassa via Facebook
  • Oh no! I’ve been proven wrong!


  • Amber

    Time and time again yet you fail to learn.

  • David S

    Golly. If the woman who is “in tears over [the letter writer’s] refusal to follow the Bible” responds this way to theological disagreement with Christian friends, I wonder how overwrought her reactions are to her Jewish friends who reject the new testament entirely. She must be downright inconsolable. Bless her heart; what a burden.

    Or…could it be that being gay has been assigned a “worst of all sins” designation in her world? I suspect this is the more likely cause of her histrionics. Is she so entrenched in her anti-gay bigotry, so terrified of gay people being accepted, that her personal relationships hinge on her friend’s agreement about the severity of other people’s “sin”? If so, shame on her for allowing the conservative church to warp her moral perspective so terribly.

  • I appreciate the way you write with an ability to defend strong convictions while maintaining humor. As usual, its been a blessing to me as severalof those questions have been some with which I’ve personally wrestled.

  • Also, to the person writing about Hell…. there is a documentary that has come out in some cities and is upcoming in others that addresses the issue of Hell and the alternatives to the “traditional” view. It’s called “Hellbound?” and you can check it out at I’m going to see it on Saturday. I recently purchased “Hell No! Extinguishing Christian Hellfire” and cannot wait to read it!

  • You know I was supposed to BE in “Hellbound”? But, alas, by the time it was time to film me ol’ Kevin already had too much film already. But my book IS listed on the Resources page of Hellbound’s website, which is cool. Kevin also sent me an advance copy of the movie for me to review. I HAVE watched it, but haven’t written review yet. I really should do that.

    Well, that was me thinking out loud. How fun for you, I’m sure.

  • Science! Curses!

  • Sarah Richards

    One book that helped me a lot on the heaven/hell thing was Suprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Ressurection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright.

  • There is so much wrong with the love the sinner, hate the sin argument. Matthew Paul Turner wondered if christians are spending too much time hating the sin and not enough time loving the “sinner.” The whole argument makes me uncomfortable. I had to blog about it

  • Well, I’m looking forward to reading both your movie review and your book on Hell. It was examining the idea of Hell and it’s implications on the nature of God that started a transformation of beliefs. Once you allow yourself to ask one question, it invariably leads to more. Now who is thinking out loud?!? 😉 Sorry about that…

  • Matt

    But I do wonder. A lot of these articlese focus on why heterosexuals fall in love.

    Why would I, a female-bodied person with estrogen, fall in love with another female-bodied person with estrogen (and completely sterile, no less)? How does this serve the human race? How does that fit into the “surival of the fittest” theory?

    And furthermore, why would I want to transition to male? Why would I willingly give up my fertility (because that’s what we have to do) in order to live as a man? Why would my body be “on the lookout” for a mate like my partner? Why would I want the body that I want?

    Just some questions that came up for me, reading those articles.

  • Matt

    Ah, sorry! This is supposed to be Captain Answer, and all I do is come up with more questions! 🙁

  • Allie

    Your definition of the word “explain” seems to be different from mine. None of these articles explain anything meaningful about love, and if you do a little more digging you’ll find that none of them are particularly based in either fact or good science, either. This is a field that attracts silly speculation.

  • n.

    was just reading about that, sounds fascinating. wish he’d managed to include you but seems like he got some others from the similar perspective anyway, which is probably the main thing…

  • n.

    i have read some theories (and by now it’s been a while so i can’t remember if they were personal or by scientific researchers), that same sex and other non gender-binary pairings and even individuals had not an individual genetic usefulness, but more of a function in the group, since in some traditional cultures they are and were seen as sort of spare adults (much like how lots of gay couples adopt kids now) who would help out the more usual families. so i think the theory was that this could have happened all along in the past, as well.

    i would expect, also, that the further from average a person is, the more useful they would be to the group in terms of innovative thinking, as well (i’ve seen this proposed to possibly explain the evolutionary usefulness of autistics and other neurologically divergent humans across time. it could apply as well to *anybody* coming at the world from a non average perspective).

  • n.

    (did that even make sense? i need more coffee or shorter sentences)

  • Just bought “Hell No” – looking forward to it!

    I’m somewhat in the same situation as the last letter-writer. I’m attending a church because it’s got a great sunday school program and all my friends go there, but the church belongs to a denomination often known for being extremely conservative and having issues with homosexuality and women in the clergy. Our local church does have women ministers, and I know my immediate friends feel the same way I do about gay rights, but I’m pretty sure the head pastor (and a good portion of the congregation) still think being gay is a sin.

    My solution was to attend, but not join. I’m not willing to donate money to the church – and have some of it go toward anti-gay politicking via the national denomination – so I donate money to instead which is nicely non-religious but does what any church would consider to be charitable giving. I can enjoy being part of the local congregation and give my daughters the benefits of Sunday School without supporting any of the sanctioned bigotry that goes on at a higher level. I do verify that my daughters’ teachers aren’t including any anti-gay stuff with their lessons, but so far my daughters are both very little so they wouldn’t understand anyway.

  • No, it’s not. The main thing, n., is to have me in his movie. Sheesh. Prioritize much?

    [um … just in case: joke. that was a joke.]

  • That was a beautiful use of “Bless her heart.”

  • All of your articles describe romantic love. Love in the Christian context is a different sort of love, agape, affection toward others as in family members. While yes Dawkins does come up with an evolutionary explanation of why altruism and the sort developed, the explanation doesn’t give it an intrinsic value. It’s more of like, this is what we see, this is why we think it occurs. It doesn’t explain why it should be valued over other survival strategies. Since a big portion of Christianity is emulating Christ, the evolutionary explanation of how love happens is neat but not a deal breaker to Christianity, nor does it need to compete with why Christianity values agape.

  • David S

    You can take the boy out of Virginia… 😉

  • Molly By Golly

    well put

  • Allie

    Your blog post has a lot of sense in it, I think. However, it seems to me the problem isn’t with the directive to “love the sin and hate the sinner,” which is what all Christians should do, but with defining homosexuality as a sin in the first place. You couldn’t say that being black is a sin, so I love black people, but I hate their blackness; that wouldn’t make sense. You can’t hate who someone is and love them at the same time. But I can easily see loving a murderer with the love of God and yet hating murder at the same time.

  • Lymis

    ” Why would I, a female-bodied person with estrogen, fall in love with another female-bodied person with estrogen (and completely sterile, no less)? How does this serve the human race? How does that fit into the “surival of the fittest” theory?’

    Survival of the fittest is usually completely mischaracterized as “I have a lot of children.”

    Whereas, it is far more accurately simplified as “I have a lot of grandchilden.

    I’m gay, and I’m not likely to breed. But if there is anything about me or about the genes that I share with my siblings that makes it more likely for my parents to have grandchildren who survive to breed, then the system is working.

    There actually are a number of current scientific theories of why homosexuality may be genetic.

    They range from the basic idea that having extra members of the group who are tied in by blood and family but not focused on their own children, in situations. An aunt or uncle with no children of their own, but who have a stable partner, can readily serve as a surrogate parent when disease, death in childbirth, hunting accidents, war, or starvation kill off the parents.

    There are more complex theories about a healthy society needing a variety of pre-programmed tendency toward gender roles, and that gay and lesbian people help prevent societies from becoming caricatures of the worst of gender stereotypes.

    There are also genetic theories that homosexuality doesn’t actually have to be a net positive itself for it to be genetically useful or even critical.

    Sickle-cell anemia is a terminal disease that predominantly affects adult men, but the genes that cause it are also strongly linked to resistance to malaria in women and young children. Genetically, keeping women and children alive long enough to procreate is “worth” the cost of losing some adult males who have already procreated. But there is no obvious link up at the level of human society that ties malaria and sickle-cell together – that all happens down at the genetic level.

    It’s possible that there is something about the genes that produce homosexuality in some people that do something else entirely in other people that creates a net genetic benefit, and the way genes work, that positive may have absolutely nothing to do with sex or orientation.

    And of course, gay people aren’t infertile, we’re perfectly capable of having and raising kids. We just can’t have them with each other. Most of the “this can’t possibly be genetic” claims are based on ideas of purely monogamous two-person relationships, which isn’t how people always work, especially not if there is social pressure to have kids.

  • n.

    LOL yeah got that. it’s funny when people PRETEND to be arrogant.

  • Elizabeth

    Woah, Lymis. I never studied the genetics behind homosexuality because I never thought it needed to be explained. It exists; get over it. I never thought the purpose of straight people was to procreate, either. This is a fascinating synopsis, though. Kudos.

  • aaaahshucks

    Stay out of those Nicene Creed churches heaven, hell, self control sexually before marriage– a Savior that expects repentance, ooohhhh no. Horrible!!


  • TheIntellectualGerbil

    the first letter really hit a nerve for me because i heard that certain phrase just once too often:

    “hate the sin and love the sinner” … the most hideous slogan, conservative christians ever brewed up in their “campaign against everyone but themselves” …

    at first glance it sounds so wise and full of high morals but in thruth it just means hate the other, because at the end of the day no human being can love someone and despise a part of that very same person. you either love or you do not. so here is a really wise phrase to put up against that stupid slogan:

    love is unconditional – that means NO CONDITION (sorry for the caps, but its important)

    loving someone does not just mean appreciating all the good things about a person, it also means accepting all the flaws (or whatever you may think of as a flaw). love does not come with a set of conditions like your gym-contract. if you love, you just do, period.

    that is what i would tell that “friend” who does not get the message to stop pestering the writer of the first letter about her personal believes. if she is unable to love unconditionally, then let her go, her world obviously is too full of misunderstood bible teachings and hatred to ever be a place were anyone is truely welcome, who dares to disagree with her views.

    just walk away, set up a mail-rule to auto-delete her messages and be done with it … after screaming in her ear for a last time. not that that would make a difference but it will make you feel better 😛 (not very enlightened of me, i know, but still).

  • TheIntellectualGerbil

    aaand once again i forgot to say thank you for the great article … so: thank you john

  • Robin

    I’ve also been in the same situation as the person with the last letter. I tend to be pretty liberal and that can be awkward to say the least in a conservative setting. The letter writer indicates that he really loves a lot of the people in this group, in spite of political differences and my question would be – how do they feel about him?

    If they respect and love him in spite of the differences (unlike that character from the first letter) then that really is to me what a faith community is all about – that people can be unified by their love of Jesus and learn to overcome differences with respect. I was just reading the latest post at RLC about a very purple fellowship – hard work but possible with a lot of grace.

    I really like Wendy’s idea in earlier comments about how to manage finanacially in that situation by giving to specific areas you like and not to a general fund.

  • mike moore


  • mike moore

    A wonderful perspective.

  • mike moore

    Dude, ur in excellent company, and it could be worse… one of Kevin Costner’s first big roles was in ‘The Big Chill’ … Costner played the dead guy, and his scenes and face were left on the cutting room floor.

  • Diana A.

    Yeah. I remember that!

  • mike moore

    David, you are so much more polite than I. This lady just sounds like a bitch wrapping herself up in pink chiffon.

  • mike moore

    Great letters and responses, John. You’re a good man.

  • mike moore

    Wrong is such a harsh word. Surely the explanation is that science has yet to catch up to JS.

  • n.

    This is exactly the sort of thing i was trying to get at, but i couldn’t rememberit well enough. Thank you.

  • Jill H

    And it is a burden to be so cold-hearted and vapid! I firmly believe people who shut off their heart and humanity to fit themselves into a dogmatic system like that are completely burdened by a heavy conscience. That may be why martyr complexes seem to come rather easily to this group.

  • David S

    *like*. A lot!

  • Jill H

    Hey fabulous people, I’m seeking intel.

    If I can be so bold to ask here, can anyone fill me in on the LGBTQ equality and social justice perspective of Presbyterians? Is there a governing body that dictates each church’s belief system, or is each one left to decide its own slant? Are there conservative and liberal sub-branches? How does one find out a particular church’s stance on subjects they may not want to advertise publicly?

  • Elizabeth

    Hi, Jill. I was raised in an austere Presbyterian church with great sermons and potlucks. PC(USA) Presbyterians are similar to Episcopalians in their outlook. The others tend to be literalist and conservative. Here are two links you might find helpful:

  • Diana A.

    Also, check out the More Light Presbyterians. This is the gay-friendly wing of the Presbyterian Church–

  • mike moore

    I have family who are Pres … I think as a denomination it’s fairly split right now and has been at a tipping point for several years in regards to attitudes toward LGBT and same sex marriage. Not surprisingly, some churches (like the one in my hometown) are very conservative, whereas a close friend who is a Pres Pastor performs SSM outside of the church. For a specific church’s pov, I’d corner it’s Pastor,

  • Jill H

    Hi all, have I told you lately that I love you? (I’m singing it to you…)

    And I will be cornering a certain cute & single associate pastor I met to find out the deal. His church seems to be growing, so too should their beliefs. If they haven’t changed since I was Pres nearly 30 years ago, then its not for me.

  • Most Presbyterian churches in the US outside the Bible Belt are Presbyterian Church – USA, which is the largest branch and has a national organization structure similar to the US government’s. (Our government was based on the Presbyterian church’s model, actually.) When I was a delegate to General Assembly (the national committee), the ordination of openly gay/lesbian pastors was a hot-button issue. Fast-forward ten years and it’s still a hot-button issue. I believe the current national stance is that pastors are expected to live upright lives – monogomy within marriage and chastity outside it. They can’t be ordained while out, but they won’t be kicked out of the church if they come out after being ordained (as long as they never “live in sin,” I guess?). On a practical level, this means more liberal churches can have gay/lesbian pastors with no problem (partnered, in states where gay marriage is legal) and more conservative churches can just opt not to call those particular pastors to their churches.

    There are about a dozen other splinter branches of the Presbyterian church – most notably Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). They’re overwhelmingly found in the Bible Belt, and are much closer to Southern Baptist in political ideology than they are to PCUSA. Many also don’t allow women in positions of leadership.

    As for finding out a particular church’s stance on gay/lesbian couples attending – I think you just have to ask. If you point-blank question the pastor about “Would my partner and I be welcomed here?” you should be able to tell pretty well from the answer (or non-answer) whether or not that church is accepting.

  • Heather

    Hi Jill,

    Presbyterian Church (USA) is the more liberal wing of the Pres church. So start looking there. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA for short) is more conservative. I’m a member of a Pres (USA) church where lots of gay couples, many with children, attend and hold leadership positions. (My five-year-old feels that she is getting the shaft, because “Did you know that Oscar has TWO mommies?!” while she’s stuck with one mom and one dad.) As I understand my church, there is no governing body that dictates theological positions, and individual congregations make policy decisions. As for a particular church’s stance, I suggest you just go visit. Make an appointment with the minister, and ask him or her directly.

  • Jill H

    Thanks Heather very much for your reply. I must be located in the wrong area to find any local progressive Pres churches, but I am looking at other groups as well.

  • Johannes Richter

    “…but I love my church and want to be a part of it. I just don’t know if I can reconcile these two issues.”

    Dear John,
    I do not agree with your advice that he leaves his church. He would not “love them” if they were complete shallow hypocrites, and many of them probably struggle with the same kind of ambivalence as his wife and are choosing a different lane for the time being. Christians are so concerned about living their faith earnestly and with conviction that it often leaves very little room for maneuvering around each other’s issues; if they’re wrong (like they were about slavery, or apartheid) they’re kind of forced to be wholeheartedly, irredeemably wrong. Is the correct response to leave them to their ignorance?

    We could all benefit from allowing ourselves a bit of grace to resolve matters we are not yet convinced about, especially if it concerns changing thousands of years of momentum. That goes for anyone who feels more enlightened than his brothers. Isn’t that what 1 Cor. 8 was all about?

    So unless there is some other danger in remaining in that church as a representative of a different kind of thinking, I don’t think we have reason to encouraging the rapid multiplication of protestant churches, which is only dividing the kingdom, not strengthening it. We have to find a way to deal with differing convictions without sacrificing love.

  • Erwin

    Im new to this site , Im a little confused ( I know I just set myself up, but that ‘s ok, go for it if you like) ; I’ve heard of Dear Abby , but is this like a “Dear John” column for people who dont know – what they or what in or who to or why to or why not or how to or whatever they want to or what everybody else says I should or I dont know what to or what my friends and/or enemies say I should or whatever they want to – BELIEVE IN? Isnt it time you decide? Concerning the idea that you have to ‘leave your mind at the door to have faith in God ‘ comment in the first response, I’d suggest reading “Battle for the Beginning” by John MacAthur, or listening to it online for free at . Debates the creationist vs evolutionist view of creation from both a scientific and bibilcal point of view very well. Very eye openning and thought provoking , but only if you hear it in its entirety and then you can determine for yourself from a more informed perspective. Looking forward to discuss its subject matter with all who are interested.