By Jennifer Shelton, Owning Pink
Last week, I read Lissa Rankin’s article “Make Love, Not Burned Qurans” on OwningPink.com and started to reply to some of her questions: “Why must we let our faith divide us, rather than unite us? Why can’t you let me believe what I believe, I’ll let you believe what you believe, and we can love each other anyway? Why must we let religion, hatred, and fear get between us and the Divine? If God is love, where is the God in this church? And what are we to do about it?” As I got into my reply, however, I realized I had an entire post inside of me. Here goes.
I was raised as a Southern Baptist in a small Kentucky town. My parents, my sister and I went to Sunday school and church every Sunday morning. We returned to church on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. We had week-long “revivals” several times a year, and I always spent at least two weeks in Vacation Bible School every summer. I was quite faithful to my denomination until my 20s. At the moment, I consider myself “spiritual but not religious” but I think I’m the only one in my family who has “left” the church. I feel that I have a unique view of a fundamentalist mindset, both inside and out.
What may seem like hate is based in love
A basic tenet in many Christian denominations is that non-Christians will go to hell when they die. This was the focal point of most of the sermons I heard growing up. This tenet is accepted just as one would accept the law of gravity. I once had a friend ask me why people would choose to believe in a God who would send people to eternal hell fire. For many, this belief is not a choice. It’s just the way things are. My church community firmly believed that it was our responsibility to prevent as many people from going to hell as possible, and they went about trying to convert everyone to Christianity. How did they do this? Through fear. It can be quite the motivator.
As an elementary school child, I sat through sermon after sermon describing the eternal heat of hell fire, the smell, the pain, the thirst, the never ending agony. Sermons ended with questions like, “If you left this church today and died in a car accident, would you go to heaven?” Some preachers would even point directly at people in the pews, make eye contact, and say, “Are YOU saved?” I know this sounds horrible and hateful. But, keep in mind that within this paradigm, our mortal life is just a blip but eternity is well, forever. To leave one person unsaved was just cruel. Yes, the basis of these fear tactics (for most), was concern and love.