Hell Is A Gated Community

Hell Is A Gated Community February 28, 2022

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 NRSV)

A colleague recently said our churches are tempted to become gated communities. I thought about that for a few days afterwards and realized that is the description Jesus gives of Hell.

Biblical Hell

The text quoted above describes “the gates of Hell.” Hell (Hades in Greek or Sheol in Hebrew) is the realm of the dead. The church will overcome death. It is a very simple statement. Matthew later tells how the dead righteous rise when Jesus does. The ancient doctrine called “the Harrowing of Hell” develops from the idea that while dead, Jesus rescued the righteous people known in Israel’s history.  It appears 1 Peter 18-20 contributes to the idea too. There is very little else said about this place in the Scripture. Paul doesn’t mention it at all.

The Gated Church

Jesus rescuing the righteous dead is a good theme to consider now. Churches have all types of self-appointed “gatekeepers.” My mind usually thinks of the gatekeepers in my fundamentalist past. The obsession with eternal damnation in the minds of so many people is a living hell. The gatekeepers control the doctrinal expressions of the church. If you are not stating dogma the way they think you should, then you are going to be tormented forever. But no one considers the torment of living in the dissonance. Honestly, I spent the entire Trump presidency wondering what the hell was wrong with the fundamentalist gatekeepers. The people who tried to control the thoughts and actions of others then told us it was okay for one person to do it all.

The gatekeepers let me down. But did they really? Let’s consider what I expected. I expected these people to live in the hell they made for the rest of us. Why would they do that?

Human Hell

The picture of Hell most people have in their minds are human creations. Dante, Milton, and the movies give us horrifying and sometimes comical images. Those pictures are nothing like the hells humans invent for each other. Gatekeepers do it. But the people living behind the gates do too. It is all in our heads and hearts. We fear what looking for freedom means.

Social acceptance is a powerful force. Humans need interactions with other people. When ties are forged, it is hard to go looking for new ones. Most people choose not to do so. It was scary for me to walk away to find the freedom I did in a new denomination and perspective. I understand it. Yet, people who wish to be free must risk it. The problem is getting through the gates.


Charlie Chaplin said dictators “free themselves but enslave the people.” Dictators like gatekeepers only think they do. They bind themselves into a cycle of dissonance that increases their fear. The paranoia is frightening enough. But gatekeepers are themselves kept. They cannot easily escape, either.

Some time ago I wrote a post criticizing the Institute for Religion and Democracy and the still unofficial Global Methodist Church. The response to it was surprising for many reasons. The argument about money caught some attention. What does donor money do? It binds gatekeepers to pleasing the donors. And the IRD has quite an impressive list of donors. It is difficult to give the money up for the sake of the peaceable kingdom. Greed takes many forms but the most sinister is to justify it by claiming to do good.

Escaping the mental enslavement is necessary for growth. When gatekeepers walk away seeking freedom, it is worth finding out why? Helping such people articulate their journey is important for their own clarification as well as those who seek to escape.

Hell is a gated community. It is an atmosphere of spiritual death and mental restraint. The gatekeepers claim to keep people faithful. All that is accomplished is everyone’s stagnation.

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