Monday, August 14, 2006


I saw a TV story about a Pentecostal preacher who lost a large congregation, a fancy church and the support of his peers because he had a realization about hell – and had the courage to tell people about it.

The existence of hell was a fundamental tenet of his religion. You behave badly, you do bad things, you fail to take Jesus into your heart and you’re going to end up in hell. Not very complicated. Kind of an eternal carrot and stick.

One night watching TV on his big screen in his big house with his well-fed family he saw Rwandan refugees returning home. They were living dead people, mostly women and children. Emaciated, without hope, no light in their eyes – just walking slowly or lying or sitting. They were Muslims, and since they hadn’t taken Jesus into their heart it was inevitable that they would go to hell.

He realized that his reading of the scriptures had been all-wrong. They were already in hell. There was no place worse for them to go. This couldn’t be the way God meant it to be. The way it would be, he decided, is that there is redemption for everyone after death, no matter how bad or misguided they had been. There is no hell to go to. And that’s what he began to preach.

The religious establishment of which he was a part couldn’t handle his new point of view. Not only was he wrong, he was preaching heresy. They tried to get him to change his mind. He refused. He would pay the price for his apostasy. And he did.

Some time later, in a visit to a church in San Francisco that was home to the downtrodden and rejected of our society, led by a Lesbian preacher, he preached. They heard him and accepted him. To show their love for him they brought in some water, had him take off his shoes, and washed his feet. He was cleansed of all that he had endured since he took his stand in opposition to hell.

He returned to his home in Tulsa, was offered an unused church in which to preach and began building his congregation anew. He has hundreds of people attending his services now. Not the thousands he used to have. But he goes on – happy in his new calling and surrounded by people whose lives are better because of him.

He’s right of course. Hell is a figment of the imagination of people who require such a threat to keep people in line, to keep them believing as their ‘leaders’ think they should believe.


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