In case you haven’t noticed, a small shift seems to be taking place in certain Christian circles. A vocal subset of Christians who have spent the last twenty years fighting the battle against the heretic hoards who dare to suggest that homosexuality might not be an abomination against the Lord, have quietly dropped their crusade against gays.
It is not that they have changed their minds. It is just that the human sexuality debate no longer seems to be a ditch worthy dying in. Gays are quietly getting married all over North America and the sky has yet to fall. Harold Camping not withstanding, same-sex couples are creating healthy families and the world has not come to an end.
So, Christians who have been fighting this battle with all their biblical resources, have taken up a new battle. The crusade has shifted from homosexuality to hell. But, the motivation is the same. These battle hardened warriors for Christ are still marching under the banner of fear.
For years they peddled their fears about the dire consequences of liberalizing the rules restricting same-sex couples. If we allowed gays to teach our children, they warned, our children would suddenly become gay. If same-sex couples were permitted to enter into marriage relationships, heterosexual marriage would be ruined. They warned that the end of civilization would be upon us if society did not stem the tide of homosexuality sweeping across the nation.
But, they woke up one morning and the gay teacher had helped their child pass grade eight math. Gays started getting married and my heterosexual marriage anyway has never been stronger. The wrath of God has not been poured out upon the earth with wild unforgiving vengeance against gays in the military.
So the peddlers of fear picked a new topic. Now it is the fear of an eternity of conscious torment they are using in an attempt to whip people into shape.
They shake their Bibles and warn that if you don’t believe in hell for those who reject Christ, you will lose the entire Gospel. You will be responsible for sending poor benighted souls to that very place of torment you in your arrogance have convinced them does not exist.
Whether the issue is homosexuality or hell, the fear, is the same. It is fear that there are forces at work in life that we do not control. If we cannot manage these forces, we will be destroyed by them. So, we must get our theology right. We must impose God’s perfect morality on everyone, or the world will begin to unravel.
The problem is that the world is not unraveling quite to schedule. The evidence of peoples’ lives keeps confounding the rumours of their condemnation.
Honest, deeply spiritual people continue to live loving, respectful, honourable lives in spite of the fact that their Buddhist beliefs would prevent them from ever believing in, let alone committing themselves to, a God who condemns people to eternal torment because they have failed to acknowledge the name of Jesus. Faithful Muslims continue to love their families and live peacefully in our communities despite the fact that they view Jesus as only one among many of the prophets God has sent to speak truth to the world. How can people destined for hell be so likeable in life?
Perhaps it is time to stop playing the fear card. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the work of God’s Spirit is a little bigger than some of the tidy boxes we have created in which to keep God safely confined.
When the real wolf came, the boy who had tricked the community so many times by falsely crying wolf was simply ignored. Christians who insist on crying wolf have a diminishing audience.
It seems that the Spirit of God galvanizes people into life transforming choices, not so much by scaring the hell out of them, as by allowing the gentleness of God’s Spirit to make their hearts receptive to the presence and action of love.
Jesus’ expansive vision of love may be too challenging for those who prefer fear -
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45,46)
The self-sacrificing love for which Jesus died is the reality that causes us to be “children of your Father in heaven.” It may be easier to practice fear than to trust God’s love. But fear is unlikely to warm the arts of most people to embrace the demanding practice of self-denial Jesus laid down for his followers.