Gay people and hell? Go with what you know.

liesThe rational Christian must admit that no one actually, in an objective sense, knows if there’s a hell, or knows how God feels about homosexuality. Any of us can pretend that we know those things, of course. But none of us really does. The Bible is open to an infinite number of perfectly legitimate interpretations. That’s one of its great miracles: in so many ways, and about so many things, the Bible insists that ultimately we must arrive at our own understandings and conclusions.

If the Bible were perfectly and explicitly clear on where God stands on the issues of hell and LGBT people, today the question of homosexuality would not be dividing Christendom in two, and great numbers of Christians would not be taking seriously the idea that nothing in the New Testament is meant to indicate that hell is a real and literal place.

The bottom line is that each Christian has to decide for him or herself whether there’s a hell, and whether God is or isn’t okay with people being and living gay.

When God comes to earth, and walks and talks as a man, you can be sure that, right off the bat, you’re into a whole bunch of stuff you will never, ever fathom. But as confoundingly complex as the Bible is, the one thing within it that comes across with extreme clarity is that Jesus’ primary, fundamental mission and purpose was one of love. The one thing in the Bible that’s crystal clear is that Jesus came to help us grasp the fullness and magnitude of God’s love for us.

This is my take on Jesus, anyway: first and foremost he meant to communicate the infinite degree to which each of us, individually, is loved by God.

Once I accept that as true, I know exactly what to make of the “controversial” questions of gay people and hell. If you begin with the conviction that (as 1 John 4:8 tells us), God is love, and you take seriously Jesus’s declaration that one-half of the most important of all laws is that we love our neighbors, then the debate over whether God does or doesn’t send all non-Christians to hell, or whether God is okay with gay people being gay, dissolves. Because thinking and talking about hell and/or God’s condemnation of gay people moves you beyond what you know to be true about Jesus Christ, and into what can only amount to speculation about him.

I’m a slow-witted person. I don’t like to think too much. I prefer to go with what I know, and, where possible, to shed the rest.

The idea of a God who would condemn to hell forever all non-Christians and gay people is logically, diametrically opposed to the idea of a God who loves mankind. It would mean that God is not obeying the very law about which he himself, as Jesus, declared none greater.

It would mean God breaking his own Great Commandment!

That just doesn’t make sense.

So I reject it.

I start with the love of Jesus; I let everything else fall away.

Good-bye hell.

Good-bye the idea that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron.

Hello, Jesus.

 


I will be including this essay in the upcoming revised edition of my book UNFAIR. As you may know, I’m asking readers to help me proofread such essays. If you would, please leave any mistake you find in the text above—spelling, punctuation, syntax, anything at all—as a comment below. (Once I’ve incorporated your suggested changes into the text itself I may delete your comment, by way of keeping a clean and focused pathway for those wishing to comment on the post itself. I know that can seem really obnoxious; thanks for understanding why I might do it. And thanks so much for your help!)

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    Pretty much sums it up for me too John. I was heading on that direction before I discovered your work here. You helped me have things fall into place. That brought me extraordinary peace knowing I was off the hook for having to look at anyone as “worthy of hell” but instead as loved by an amazingly loving God.

    • Jill

      What you said, sd!

  • mike moore

    Oscar Wilde also sums it up nicely, “I don’t want to go to Heaven. None of my friends are there.”

    • Elizabeth

      “You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”

      • mike moore

        I know that feeling!

        One of the problems with getting old is one loses their edge. I always assumed I’d be dead by now, found in a pool of vomit, still clutching a bottle of Jack, in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont (I’ve always loved the classics.)

        Now, I own golf clubs. Time to look for new role models.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

          I own a set of golf clubs too! Woe to all ponds, geese, kneecaps I may encounter after I swing. Its a good thing I’m recovering from a self induced neck injury, or else I’d be a terror on the links on this gorgeous day.

          • mike moore

            SD! Another golfer! I adore ponds, roughs, bunkers, tall trees, lava rock (Hawaii) and the occasional human, as targets … or so my golf game would imply.

            Still, daring to use a 4 iron in a sand trap is just not the same as passing out somewhere along Sunset Strip (when you wish you knew exactly where you are, and … and, just out of curiosity, who took your shirt along the way.). Getting old is not for the faint of heart.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            I don’t know if what I do is called golfing. My husband of a year plays and is attempting to teach this profoundly left-handed wife how to play the game. I also lack a coordination gene. What I’ve become adept at is profanity. Getting the ball to leave the ground and in the direction and distance I want? Not even close

    • Robert

      I think I heard someone once say….

      You go to heaven for the weather and hell for the company…

  • justjohn

    i disagree, john.

    the bible is not complex at all. it is simple WE make it complex by imposing our own demands on what we want it to be: certainty in your literal hands.

    i believe the ancients had a far better grasp of the omnipresence of an ever-living god as part of everyday life. did they write all this crap to be pat robertson’s personal definitive rulebook on who is or isn’t worthy? oh, hell no, that isn’t a simple a reasonable conclusion.

    based on the *nature*of the OT, it was a jewish “history” and “lessons learned” compilation. most likely to be used to educate leaders – but then came the settling into a rulebook , creating a class system of holiness. this was exactly what the jesus condemned.

    the NT, as any historical scholar knows, was just those cherry-picked pamphlets that supported the roman group’s theology. pamphlets that were the end results of a few hundred years of the “telephone game” every kid knows as a lesson on how gossip distorts truth. we have no clue who actually wrote what pamphlets. what we do know is that christians were being christian just fine and dandy for at least 300 years without any sucb thing as a bible! and part of their “heresy” against the established romans and jews (etc) was following in the jesus tradition of *rejecting rules* and clinging only to the one true living god.

    i reject the bible as any source of any theology. be brave as an original christian who relied only on an understanding of the obvious: love god, love neighbors, reject love for any other idols…. they certainly would have reject the bible and every televangelist!

    • Elizabeth

      As an Oxford-trained scholar, I assure you your argument is superfluous, reductive, and pedantic. Look the big words up.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      If the bible was as simple as you assume, then how come there are so many schools of thoughts on what it is, what it says, what it doesn’t say, what it is about, what it represents, etc.?

      Then you make the mistake of putting people like a sadly delusional, long past retirement, televangelist and assuming he knows better than anyone else as to its contents.

      You of course are free to reject the bible on its theological basis. But I have to wonder, if you are a Christian, where do you get your basis? The little record we have on what Christianity is founded on, is found mostly in a small segment of the book you are rejecting on its theological basis….Now granted the writers of the New Testament, only had the Old, but they found merit in what it had to offer, but that is what they had, to a point, because for most people in that time in history, books were a rare commodity, being able to read them, equally rare.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    On the whole hell thing. If God sent Jesus, to save us, and if Jesus said that the intention was not to condemn the world, when why have so many made condemning people, who are not Christian, not of a certain denomination, not of a certain orientation, not of a certain lifestyle, etc. such an integral part of Christian theology?

    It just to me doesn’t add up, and seems contrary to what Jesus said and did during his time here, before returning back to being just all the way God.

    • anakin mcfly

      Sometimes it’s out of genuine concern for those souls whom they perceive as at risk of ending up in hell.

      At other times it’s regular old bigotry.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

        Agreed anakin. Yet, why be concerned for something they have no control of, and instead just be kind, and generous, and patient, and gracious, and friendly? You know, loving them as the beautiful person God made.

        • Elizabeth

          Well, um, in my studies, which are by no means complete, I was really puzzled by hell. Because I read the old testament, when people seemed to be worried about Sheol, that is, going down to grave, but not of hell. Suddenly, when Jesus is introduced, they are talking about hell. So, I’ve felt uneasy about hell for a long time, and then last year, or there abouts, I read the Aenied for one of my classes. The roman book, and you would not believe how similiar Tartarus is to our idea of hell. So, I started looking into it, and it seems as though our idea of hell has developed from a word Gehenna, which was translated into the anglo saxon word ‘hell’, but the thing about it is that this was a real place, it was the Valley of Hinnom, which was a horrible place, where child sacrifices had been made to the god Molech, where the children’s screams were covered by loud music, and fires were always kept burning to ‘purify’ the putridness. Over time, it was a desolate dump area for executed criminals, whose bodies were burned in the never ending fires. Feel free to look it up, but I think if you keep in mind hell as a figure of speech indicating corruption, and decay and unpleasantness, instead of borrowing horrible places from the earlier greek and roman gods, I think you might have a less Zuesy picture of God. If you use ‘destruction’ as a substitute word for hell, it will give you a different idea of it, and one that’s more in line with how people would have heard Jesus back when his name was Yeshua. Feel free to look any of this up, you don’t have to take my word for it. But I find that taking away the hell mythos shows me a more concerned God, who is trying to keep us from destroying ourselves by living miserably instead of lovingly.

          • Elizabeth

            Oh, I forgot to mention that in the new testament, a few references to shoel are also listed as hell, so the angels held in darkness until the time of judgment are listed as in hell too, which helps confuse things. Still, if you are interested in it, you can see which one is which.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com allegro63

            In my several decades of being involved in religion and involved as a member of the Christian faith, I have heard a wide variety of Christian, or quasi-Christian theories on the topic. I’ve also looked into some non-Christian thoughts on the subject including Zoroastrianism which I think we got some of the modern religious thought on it, and of course several others including Hindu and other eastern theories. And there is variety, loads of it. People talk about it, read about it, preach about it, listen about it, think about it, and have for a long time.

            Meanwhile, we have this life. The one we are living right now, the one were we don’t know yet what we are going decide what to wear on Monday morning, much less have the capacity to determine what is going to happen after anyone dies.

            So why go there? I choose to be thankful for this day, this moment as each day, each moment comes. My life, is a gift, and I’ve only got so much of it left. I’m not going to waste it on worrying about hell, or heaven, or nirvana, or reincarnation into someone, or something else, (and if it isn’t a person, I better be a well pampered cat, or Brahma and I are going to have a talk) or cessation of existence all together. There isn’t a damned thing I can do about what happens once brain synapses stop for good. So I am going to live, I’m going to love, I’m going to be grateful for this day that the Lord has made.

        • Anakin McFly

          Because of the belief that they do have control of it – the whole basis for evangelism, basically. If one genuinely believes in eternal torment for non-believers – which many Christians still do – the compassionate thing to do would be to try and save them from it in any way possible. Simply showing love to them in this life would have little effect if in the end they still end up burning forever.

  • Elizabeth
    • Elizabeth

      OK, John. I’m devoted to you. But leaving “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” by itself is a little deranged.

  • anakin mcfly

    “Many studies have proven you will be more religious if you are less intelligent! Did you know that??? Doesn’t this say something???” [Anakin is referring to a comment I've deleted - John]

    It says that being less intelligent correlates with being less educated, and being less educated correlates with being less likely to change your initial worldview. In a Western context, that initial worldview tends to be religious and Christian. In my small Asian country, on the other hand, there’s a correlation between intelligence and adherence to Christianity, because it’s only the more educated (and more intelligent) people who got exposed to Western ideas and religion. If you have a country where most people start out raised in atheistic environment, it would likewise be the more intelligent and educated people who are more likely to question their original worldview and become theists.

    So basically it doesn’t prove squat about religion, other than that educated people get exposed to more ideas and are thus more likely to question the ones they grew up with.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      What studies say that? What does education or lack thereof have to do with religion, or spirituality as a whole? There are devoted members of their faith in all spectrums of the educational scale.

    • David S

      Yes, those studies have been making the rounds for a while and it angers me to no end. Using questionable science to stigmatize an entire group of people is exactly what the FRC and their kind have done to people who are gay for a long time. It’s not right when they do it, and it’s not right for anyone to do that to conservative Christians in retaliation. By all means, let’s point out harm that has been caused by toxic beliefs; but for the love of God, let’s not cause harm by spreading vile lies that are intended to debase people.

      • Matt

        Not even questionable science, David. Just plain old made-up piles of excrement. They don’t bother with a hypothesis; they already have a conclusion in mind when they start.

        The trouble is that conservative Christians *are* intelligent, but their minds are warped by hate. That’s what makes them truly frightening people.

  • anakin mcfly

    “The idea of a God who would condemn to hell forever all non-Christians and gay people is logically, diametrically opposed to the idea of a God who loves mankind”

    But doesn’t this assume that God has any say in the matter? At least, I’d been taught that while God wished for everyone to be saved and is grieves when they are not (which the Bible says a number of times), precisely because of that love, I always got the idea that it was an area where his omnipotence was limited, because a perfect God could not come into contact with an imperfect human sinner. Hence the point of Jesus as substitute, where rejecting said substitute (e.g. in this case by being a non-Christian) basically meant that they would continue in their imperfection and thus be physically (or metaphysically) incapable of coming into God’s presence, hence hell. So it’s not so much that God sends them there, but that it’s an automatic action, kind of like how positive sides of magnets repel each other even if the magnet sides in question would really like to be friends.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      So if God’s omnipotence is limited, than God is not omnipotent. It can’t be both.

      And the bible contradicts the theory, because there are stories where God does speak or interacts, or uses as a messenger, non-Christians, or non-Jewish, or even non-Hebrews. He even used a donkey once. Heck that’s most of the Old Testament, and a fair part of the New.

      Plus being a Christian, and accepting Jesus’s sacrifice for our behalf doesn’t stop making anyone incapable of sin. We still go on being selfish, being dishonest, being hurtful. Hopefully we learn to be less so, something most faiths try to help us work on.

    • http://thegreatfulmom.wordpress.com Keshia W

      I don’t believe this. I used to kind of think this way, but my thoughts on the subject have completely changed. If God made everything, he MADE hell. He is in charge of it. People tend to believe that “The Devil” is responsible for hell, and is God’s opposite, when in fact, if there is a Devil, he is the “bad” equivalent of the Arch Angel Michael. God has no opposite, no one who holds as much power as He does. At least according to my understanding of theology.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

        If God made everything…..Now that is the big question there. Did God make literally everything, or are some concepts inventions of people? Especially as we have zero tangible evidence for such things such as hell, the devil, angels. People tend to believe such things because they’ve been taught these concepts, somehow, Either from other people, from books, the arts.

        It is that which gives me pause. And my experience with life and faith has taught me to not believe everything I’ve been taught. Then when I compare the life and teachings of Jesus, which in reality isn’t much, but still profound, to the teachings of religion, I end up picking the teachings/examples of Jesus, primarily the “Love God, Love your neighbor” theme, every time. I just cannot reconcile that teaching of Jesus, who is also God, with a deity who trumps that teaching with the destruction of whatever group religion deems unsalvageable. Saying “I love the world so much I came to save it….well cept you guys”, just don’t wash with me.

        • Elizabeth

          I tend to think God set it motion and then trusted us, his creations. Whether or not we are worthy of His trust is a different matter. I also love the idea of angels. Satan was one. It’s a seductive paradox.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            I like the idea of angels to, but I think we think we know more about them than we really do. There is an odd obsession over them, and like many things spiritual, little to go on, other then a few mention in religious texts.

            I think we like the Satan persona, because its someone to blame…other than ourselves of course. I’m old enough to remember Flip Wilson and his catch phrase “the devil made me do it.” He said it in jest, but so many take that to heart. We take that ancient concept of a scapegoat, and dress it up in horns and a pitchfork, and then pin all that’s evil in the world on those dubious shoulders.

            Im in the skeptic camp, of course with this. In a past life I must have been named Thomas. But Thomas had something going for him, he wasn’t afraid to be dubious, to ask questions, to say prove it. I think it as an asset, because my insatiable curiosity and need to ask those questions keeps me in discovery mode, realizing as I learn that I know nothing, which ironically is rather peaceful.

          • Matt

            I think God, being omniscient, knows exactly what we will do before we do. God knows every single thing that was, is, and will be. We only know part of the picture. So while some things may not come directly from God, all things can be traced back to God.

            If what I think is at least partly so, God must feel both all-powerful and completely powerless at the same time.

            To me, it makes the story of Lucifer especially demonstrative of God’s love. If God knew exactly what Lucifer would do, yet did not stop him, how much does that say about how much God loves us?

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            What we think…that is what is, I think so wonderful about all this. We all have our own ideas, theories, suppositions. We by saying “I think” confirm that we are all somewhat shooting in the dark. And that’s perfectly ok. Because God is still God, and still just out of reach of our understanding, which hopefully keeps us from utter smugness. Even so God loves us enough to work with our limited, often silly ideas, and urge us along, allowing our queries, our guesswork, our getting aha moments, two seconds before the. “wait a moment.”

            I like the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” I think of that phrase, and what it means, and braincells start shorting out. I just can’t do it as much as I want to. God remains a mystery despite my efforts to solve.

          • David S.

            Be still and know that I am God. So much easier said than done. I mean…really…how the hell am I supposed to do that? It’s just contrary to my hardwiring. I think some practitioners of eastern forms of meditation get this so much more right than I do.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com allegro63

            I think that some of our biblical for-bearers understood meditation and being awed of the concept of God as well, but somewhere along the way it got lost. We’ve somehow lost the gift of wonder and just knowing we don’t know, of thinking ourselves into silence when it comes to God. I think it may serve us well to rediscover it.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            sheesh. How did my old forum name get here?

          • Elizabeth

            I don’t even know how to change my photo. I used to be smarter.

          • David S.

            The concept of mystery, and our tolerance (or intolerance) for it in the modern-day Church, is a fascinating and important question.

          • Anakin McFly

            “I think God, being omniscient, knows exactly what we will do before we do. God knows every single thing that was, is, and will be.”

            I used to think so, but no longer – firstly because of all the problems inherent in predestination/predeterminism (theologically, scientifically, morally). The universe doesn’t seem to work that way, plus there would not be much purpose in God creating and watching over a universe in which the story was already written and set in figurative stone.

            The Bible itself has instances of God telling people to do stuff and they don’t, and God getting angry at that – why get angry, if he knew beforehand that they would disobey? Why get disappointed at all the other things that also happened? It suggests an element of expecting otherwise, which contradicts omniscience.

            I do, however, like the theory that while God may not know what specific choices we make, he can still know what would happen if we made each of those choices – God knows all the possible futures, but which we choose is up to us.

      • Tim Northrup

        Yes, I love this thought, Keisha. And it is kind of obvious. If God is completely perfect (i.e. has all good things to the maximum quantity), you really can’t have an opposite of “alive” for instance, so to be the opposite of God would be to not exist, hence the Devil can’t be the opposite of God.

        The idea of the Devil reigning over hell has always amused me. Hell is a place of torture for the rebellious, if you read the Bible in the overtly Platonic (as in Plato-like) way that is modern orthodoxy. Problem: Devil is the chief rebel. Give the mass-murderer control of the prison? No thanks.

        The Bible makes no mention that directly states that there is punishment after death, save a couple of Jesus’ parables and Revelation, both of which are very symbolic. Mary’s response to Jesus asking about Lazarus that “he will be raised on the last day” seems to infer that Jews didn’t believe someone was alive after death, only that they would be re-created at the resurrection when God came to reign on earth. There is some indication people live on in the NT, but none they are tortured until at least after the final judgment. And after that, we’d know everything anyway so the question would be moot.

        • Anakin McFly

          “If God is completely perfect (i.e. has all good things to the maximum quantity)”

          I still don’t know if ‘perfect’/'all good’ = ‘maximum number of good things’, or ‘minimum number of bad things’. What if the maximum number of good things necessitates a certain minimum of bad things, for instance, while the minimum number of bad things would not allow for very many good things?

      • Anakin McFly

        Agreed that the devil is not in charge of hell.

        Regarding the creation of it, I heard it put once as: God didn’t create cold, he created heat. Cold is the absence of heat. Likewise, God didn’t create hell, he created heaven, and hell is the absence of heaven.

    • Luke H

      I suspect a lot of this comes from human worship of power as being dominance/control, along with a stubborn inability to admit that basic premises are faulty. So, once people started talking about God as being more powerful as, well, anything, they started comparing God with the most powerful humans they knew about. Despots. But a despot is at core fearful because he is surrounded by other potential despots. He therefore cannot be perceived as changing a decree or showing mercy because that is weakness. He must keep the common people at a distance, lest they see that he is only a man full of pretense. So people assigned attributes like that to God. But God is not insecure, and true omnipotence has no need to intimidate or control. We don’t even know what that kind of power looks like, except through the story of Christ.

      I have come to believe that the point of Jesus is that a perfect God can come into contact with imperfect humans. Or, to go Tolkien, God isn’t up there in his faraway palace in a purple robe drinking wine from a golden goblet, he is in the Prancing Pony wearing shabby clothes and muddy boots, enjoying a good pint of beer. We can come into the presence of God, where we will find welcome, healing, and redemption. It is only fear and stupid theology that keeps us from this, and has us looking for God in the wrong places.

      • Elizabeth

        I felt God as clearly in the equivalent of the Prancing Pony as I did at St. Isaacs’s or Chartres. Thank you for this.

    • Lymis

      Even if “God could not come into contact with an imperfect human sinner” that presupposes two major points that can’t be overlooked.

      One is the idea that a sinful human being isn’t perfect in God’s eyes – failing to meet some human standard of behavior or human ideal of perfection isn’t automatically a flaw in the eyes of God – even humans can understand “this product is a natural product. Any flaws or imperfections only add to the uniqueness and natural beauty of the product.” If God made people, it’s only reasonable to assume God knew what God was doing, and intended the flaws you are saying condemn someone to hell.

      Second, the idea that the only possible reaction when a flawed creation encounters the totality of the Creator is that of repulsion, rather than of transformation and perfection – that the created being coming into the presence of God becomes perfected rather than rejected.

      Either or both of those blow your idea of automatic and uncontrollable repulsion away. If nothing else, consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. If there is a hell, it’s a place we send ourselves, until we come to the realization that there is still a place for us in our real Home, only to find we were welcome there all along.

      • Anakin McFly

        Regarding the first – I thought the usual belief is the opposite, i.e. someone who may be ‘good’ (or even ‘perfect’) by human standards is still imperfect in God’s eyes and thus in need of salvation? All have fallen short, etc. :/

  • Andy Swaffar

    Excellent. Why, why, why can’t all Christians (and “Christians”) see this?

  • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    I’m actually on your side on these particular issues. I believe that gay people can be Christians (even good Christians – it’s bad sexuality like infidelity, not homosexuality, that’s the sin here). On the hell issue I’m less decided but am certainly open to the idea of a non-literal hell, or that this is a question beyond my ken.

    Here’s the thing though. I’m not sure this is the best way to get there. The exegesis seems a little sloppy to me, primarily because the great commandments weren’t to be interpreted in a vacuum. Christ says that the entire Law and Prophets hangs on these commandments, it gives what we Christians (somewhat insultingly) call the Old Testament its skeleton, its form. We are told to love our neighbor, to love God, and then we’re told in the 613 commandments and all the rest what it means to love our neighbor. Love does not always mean letting someone do whatever they like, and if I believed for one second that homosexuality was harmful in the material or spiritual sense, I would be called upon by love to reach out to my neighbor. I don’t so I’m not, but the “love your neighbor” verse doesn’t just mean “live and let live.”

    In my experience only looking to what the New Testament said, or what Jesus said, or what Jesus said in the Great Commandments, is the kind of reductivism that lets conservative Christians say we on the Christian Left don’t take the Bible seriously. The Bible does have resources, if we look at them closely, to show that it’s the Christian Right that’s wildly misrepresenting the Bible on these points. I actually go into this over at my own blog, for instance here. But the point is, if you actually want to live out the Biblical ideal, I think we need an exegesis that’s more grounded in the Bible.

    Btw, some people upthread talked about God’s omnipotence, whether an omnipotent God would be able to save people from hell if He wanted to. One common definition of omnipotence is that if something is logically possible, God can do it. (This is the answer to the old chestnut, can God create a rock so great he can’t lift it: yes, of course, but only by redesigning the laws of logic so the rock is no longer too great to be lifted.) This means that if there are some ground rules (God’s purity, God’s goodness, a respect for free will, etc.) that make it logically impossible for anyone to bring certain people into heaven, it’s no knock against God’s omnipotence to say God can’t do it either. He could give up the assumptions, of course, and we only hope He would. Or He could somehow alter reality so those things aren’t impossible. But that would have consequences across the board. I hope and pray that God saves everyone or at least obliterates them rather than subjecting them to endless torture. But just saying God is omnipotent so God can do whatever he wants isn’t quite what omnipotence is all about, at least in the philosophy I study.

    • Elizabeth

      “One common definition of omnipotence is that if something is logically possible, God can do it. This means that if there are some ground rules that make it logically impossible for anyone to bring certain people into heaven, it’s no knock against God’s omnipotence to say God can’t do it either. …But just saying God is omnipotent so God can do whatever he wants isn’t quite what omnipotence is all about, at least in the philosophy I study.”

      Hunh. There’s something circular in the logic here, but I haven’t smoked enough pot yet. I’ll be right back.

      • Stephanie

        Hahahahaha… I almost spit out my coffee…

      • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

        Some philosopher (can’t recall if it was Greek of French) said, “Even God can not change history” to which I ask “But how would we KNOW?!?!?”

        Seriously, there are a whole lotta things we once thought were impossible that science now proves are indeed possible, and in this universe it’s pretty much a guarantee that if something is possible then it’s already happen more times than we can count (only maybe not locally to our particular time/space coordinates).

        I suspect God knows a few things we don’t.

        • Elizabeth

          I certainly hope so.

    • Soulmentor

      You see, to my mind, the big mistake in so much discussion about God is first, the pronoun and second, the anthropomorphism of God into a sentient entity that THINKS and REACTS EMOTIONALLY, a rational entity.

      That kind of locks us into a certain way of thinking. Puts God in a box. And us into a thinking trap.

      • Lymis

        I’d add to that the idea that God exists in time and experiences time the same way that created beings do – that there is a before, a now, and a future in the eyes of God.

  • Donald Rappe

    I like the way this is written as well as its theology.

  • Elizabeth

    I just watched a PBS show on the 2012 Methodist convention. It asserted 60% of LGBT claim a religious affiliation, usually Christian, despite everything. That floors me.

    • Lymis

      Why?

      For many of us, claiming a religious affiliation is like claiming a nationality – we can still self-identify based on our personal identity and our own personal beliefs without buying into every doctrinal declaration of the human beings who are currently in charge.

      Just as am still an American even if I think the people running the country are wrong or misguided, I see no reason why someone can’t identify with a particular religious identity even while acknowledging that their chosen denomination gets some things horribly wrong.

      • Elizabeth

        Because that response is so much more giving than gays usually get.

  • Julie

    I spent too many years trying to be someone that I was not. I lived half my life a Christian totally in love with God and when I couldn’t “straighten” myself out, I came out and became spiritually dead just to keep breathing. I lost all of my friends and while most of my family has been courteous enough not to tell me I’m going to hell, they remain predominately unsupportive. Thirteen years later, I have finally found peace being a lesbian and a Christian. God never had a problem with who I am. God rocks.

    I understand the mindset of those who insist that being gay is wrong. Looking back, I didn’t question the status quo; I took it straight from the pulpit and swallowed it whole. If I would have questioned if gay was okay, they would have called it self serving. But I am amazed at how many straight Christians appear to be experts on whether gay is okay, having never had to walk a mile in gay shoes and likely devoting little or no time trying to find the answer. I would be willing to bet that most rely on pulpit quotes for God’s truth like most Americans rely on political pundits for their daily news.

    God gave us brains and hearts. I believe He intended His people to use both.

    Awesome post. I am so thankful for your blog and for all the straight allies who read it. It matters. Thank you.

    • Lymis

      Thank you.

      I’ve long said that if you, personally find yourself to be L,G,B,or T, then it is an important question for you to sort out how that fact relates to your relationship with God and to reconcile any of the apparent contradictions and sort out for yourself the way to be an L, G, B, or T person in right relationship to God.

      If, on the other hand, you aren’t, then that isn’t your question. As John says in this piece, the question for straight people (and for LGBT people with regards how God works in the lives of anyone else, gay or straight), the first and far more important question is “Here is my neighbor. How should I treat my neighbor who happens to be gay (etc).”

  • Cliff Tyllick

    John, I’ve got to start following links from your tweets to your blog more often. Outstanding essay.

    That said, I did find one common grammatical error and a usage I would call archaic but others might find acceptable, however quaint it may be.

    “If the Bible was…” should be “If the Bible were… .” That’s the subjunctive mood, and most people get this wrong regardless of the language. At least that’s been the case in the handful of languages I’ve studied.

    And “good-bye” is probably acceptable, if only under the category of idiosyncrasy, but the more common usage nowadays drops the hyphen: “goodbye.”

    Thanks again!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Oh, gosh, you’re so right about these calls; that “was” is … so not right, as you say.

      But I just YESTERDAY send the whole new revised UNFAIR to my formatting/layout guy!

      Hmm. Let me see just how annoyable he is…

      • Elizabeth

        Congrats! Send it off and damn the torpedos. I’m ready for my copy. (Also, formatting ‘guys’ have the patience of Job. It’s in the job description.)

  • http://BrettRWilk.es Brett Wilkes

    The only thing that sticks out to me is “one-half” in paragraph 6. It doesn’t need that hyphen, because “half” is serving as a noun (with “one” acting as an article; i.e., “a/an”). So like you could say “I held a piece of paper” or “I held one piece of paper,” you could say “I held a/one half of the piece of paper.” Article and noun, no hyphen needed.

    But some style guides accept it hyphenated in that usage, and if it’s how you always do it then it’s more important to stay consistent.

  • John

    I think that the question that any rational person should actually ask is “how do you even what rationality or objectivity is?”

    So, how do you even know if your epistemological framework is true? How do you know if your reasoning is true? Is it because you like it? Or does it actually have an objective basis in an of itself?

  • Bones

    Gee this is a good site. Some great articles John. That’s exactly where I am.

    Some great people on here too.

    Anyone get to see the movie Hellbound? at all? An Evangelical questions the notion of Hell.

  • MColins

    Interesting comments certainly.

    The idea of hell has been subjected to many interpretations over the past millenia. The most plausible one to me (within a Christian framework) is that Hell is simply where God isn’t. Sin (we are all sinners as imperfect physical creatures) removes us from communion with God. And this we do to ourselves. I have always found Buddhism to be useful here because many concepts in Christianity are analogous (though not all) We are seeking perfection (God) which is nigh unknowable. Certain actions remove us from our path to enlightenment (God) When we reach it we have attained nirvana (are in the presence of God)

    Most mainline Christians accept the idea that the Bible is many things, including a book which uses allegory and metaphor. Certainly the physical Hell described fits into to one of those categories.

    Catholicism for example holds Scripture as one of the 3 main parts of the faith, which is based upon Holy Writ (Scripture), Tradition, and theology (oral tradition) The idea that a Church is apostolic means that certain people are teachers of the faith and derive their authority from Jesus himself through succession. Scripture is truth but not all truth is in Scripture. Notice that nowhere in the Bible is there a commandment to read Scripture and as someone brought up the New Covenant with God that established Christianity was an oral tradition for the first 300 years of its existence. The Apostles were teaching Christianity orally. Only after three hundred years did someone think to put all their writings into a Canon and call it the New Testament of the Bible.

    Returning to the subject of homosexuality, certainly it is true that God loves us all gay and straight equally and sin, insofar as it turns us away from God, is all the same. Homosexuality is no different than other sin. It would be a mistake as someone argued to believe that the Bible is anything but definitive on the subject of homosexuality. Tortured interpretations serve no purpose. But also there is no reason that a gay person (with their sin) is any less capable of being a believing Christian than I can (with my sin)

    Condemnations of homosexuals as “going to hell” serve no purpose and are essentially missing the larger point of Christianity which is that we are all sinners and earn a place with God based on His grace and the lives we lead which are evidence of our being saved.

    The idea of homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality and therefore acceptable and further deserving of equal treatment in marriage is a new one. From a cultural perspective it is counter to what has been considered moral and correct for thousands of years. For that reason claims that opposition to open homosexuality are solely based on religion are simply wrong.

    I suspect that if God and Heaven are as we believe (hope) we will not have our answer until our deaths.

  • Roy Montgomery

    John Shore, you seem to forget that God has given mankind a choice. God does not condemn anyone to anything. You condemn yourself by the choices you make. Does God give some people cancer and not others, no. Does God make some people have accidents and not others, no. Does God make some marriages end in divorce and not others, no. These are all consequences of the choices we make not what God does to us. Will God allow you to live a life of sin, reject his word and so go to hell, yes. Does he want you to or condemn you in anyway, no. You are free to choose as you wish but you are not free from the consequences of the choices you make. You condemn yourself to hell, God provides a way out and your choices determine your fate not Gods condemnation or even Gods will. It is your choice.

  • Adam D

    “If the Bible were perfectly and explicitly clear on where God stands on the issues of hell and LGBT people…”

    The bible is very clear on this though. Homosexuality is listed right along with the other sins. 1 Corinthians 6:9 – “Or do you not know that the
    unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived;
    neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor
    homosexuals,” Gays will not make it to heaven, that’s just the way it is. You are right that God loves everyone, so much that he died for all the gay people so they could go to heaven, if they would accept him and give up their sin.