Shuck and Jive

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hell to Pay for Not Believing in Hell

In the news is a story about a minister who was fired because he crossed off a superstition on his "to believe" list. A Methodist minister in Henderson, North Carolina wrote on his Facebook account that he didn't believe in Hell. Apparently, some of his parishioners thought he should believe in it or at least should shut up about his unbelief.
The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow's Chapel in Henderson.
I thought his name sounded familiar, Chad Holtz. Lo and behold, Chad and I had a chat a few months ago on this very blog. It was a post about Heaven. I don't believe in it (or in any form of life after death). I stated my thoughts on a post that I am rather proud of, If there is no life after death, are we to be pitied?

Chad didn't think I was being a "good steward of the mysteries" and blogged about my post at his place,
Stewards of God's Mysteries. The irony is that Chad lost his job because his church folks didn't think that he was being a good steward of God's mysteries. This is his latest post, The Truth Can Set You Free...and Get You Fired.

"God's mysteries" are a tricky business and so is "Truth". What is superstition for one person is dogmatic truth for another. I am thankful that in some circles Christianity is evolving.

In the meantime, I wish Chad the best.
Even as he and I had our differences, I am grateful for ministers like Chad who get fired (or otherwise nudged to move on) for telling their truth. The Church needs more gutsy preachers. I hope he finds a call that respects not only freedom of the pulpit, but freedom of the Facebook as well.

The heart of authentic ministry is one's freedom of conscience. It is important for clergy to be able to express doubts about what is no longer credible for them. In so doing, they are also expressing what their parishioners also feel and they are setting an example of the importance of freedom of thought. That freedom isn't granted. It is taken. It likely will involve a cost.

I am impressed that MSNBC picked up Chad's "heresy".

The best I can ever get (whine, whine) is the


  1. The article overall is not bad for a big news org, but to be honest, it was actually a bit more than a Facebook post, as MSNBC reported, as attested by Chad himself here: - which in my opinion makes it a better story. Also, too bad Chad was only the lead-in, and after a couple paragraphs the story becomes all about Rob Bell. Again.

    Oh well.

  2. Sorry John - I just realized you already linked to Chad's post on Rachel's blog in your OP.

    Anyhow, the more I think about it, the more I'm pissed at MSNBC for purporting the article to be about the fired pastor when in fact it gives more quote-time to Al-fucking-Mohler than to Chad.

  3. Thanks for linking to this. Too bad the "Mind Police" can't tolerate free thought (as if God didn't endow us with that, or as if what arguing over what anyone thinks or believes will make a diddly damn bit of difference for what is or is not objectively true in the End). I mean, isn't our own inability to know the whole truth partly the point of the parable of the wheat and the tares? Shouldn't we all be hoping and praying that there is a good measure of Grace in all this, like the man who said, "I believe, forgive my unbelief!"? Shouldn't we be praying that through our exercise of humility in admitting we "see through a glass darkly," and seeking and acceptance of Grace, that we will be spared the glaring consequences of gazing upon a truth so brilliant that it might consume us like fire? If we try to cram God into some box that can be imagined in terms we relate to as heaven or hell, don't we elevate our selves, with our small little sensory-based conceptualizations, into some sort of Godlike creature, commiting blasphemy in the process? I'll be praying for Chad, that he can find a call big enough to fill his shoes. As for me, I don't need to dwell on this too much. I have too many challenges living a Christian life in the trenches of the here and now to worry about what is coming up in some future that I can't begin to imagine. To the Chicken Littles of the world I reply, "Get a grip!"

  4. I posted the town as Hendersonville. It should be Henderson. I corrected the article.

  5. I wouldn't worry too much about Chad. He'll be fine.

    When terms like "theological heavyweights" are used to describe Al Mohler you know we are in the realm of superstition.

  6. Admittedly, I'm a bit torn on this one. He said in his post regarding John's issues with the party line, "But also, being good stewards of this story must require, at bare minimum, that we not re-write it when and where it doesn’t conform to our present state of disbelief." And he goes on to ask, "How do we be both good neighbors and good stewards [of the mysteries]? And finally, how do we hold each other accountable so that we can all be found 'trustworthy' in our calling to be good stewards of the faith passed on to us?" I wonder what happened since then. Depending on where we are, I would have a different response to the current situation.

    My hope is that this is a sign of growth since last August. If so, awesome! In the span of a few months he has stepped out of being a defender of the letter of the text and at least a bit more into the spirit. Personally, I myself have gone through rapid growth spurts, so I don't assume that what he wrote months ago still reflects where he is.

    On the other hand, does he still criticize others as bad stewards of the story for arrogantly dismissing other mythical elements of it, while (humbly?) he now upholds that hell (for whatever reason) is no longer really a necessary part? If so, then I would be saddened indeed. For then we would be witnessing one's own mentality coming back upon him. I generally find myself (for better or worse) less sympathetic when what is being sent around ends up coming back to haunt the senders. Or, as someone else may have said it a long time ago, "the measure we give will be the measure we get." If this is where we are, then its not such a bad thing that he finds out "why" we don't do that to others.

    Of course, less sympathetic doesn't meant without sympathy. His situation sucks, and his anger is justified. Ministers shouldn't have to work under pressure to sacrifice their integrity if they want to keep their jobs. I hope he finds a different congregation more suited to him.

  7. I love your paragraph about "the heart of authentic ministry . . ." I've stolen it to share with my CPE group tonight. I am a lone liberal UU Christian in a sea of conservatives.

  8. The more I think about it, the more I think you should invite him to visit. I would love to learn more about Chad's "transition" - whether he was so deeply closeted that he lashed out at you and others who were bold enough to say what he couldn't, or whether he sincerely had a revelation (even if it were "a la mode", as it were).

    Learning about this might help us understand more about those in the anti-gay world, and how being deeply closeted affects one's life. Just a thought.

  9. @Sea Thanks!

    @Snad Hmmm...maybe. I don't think he had a transition, in terms of beliefs anyway. He was a universalist when he commented here. I would doubt it very much if he feels any differently about my beliefs. I'll consider your idea.

  10. OK, someone please explain Methodist polity to me. I know that bishops appoint pastors and only bishops can remove pastors. Chad is/was a seminary student working in a local church. What authority does a congregation have to fire someone in his situation? Or was it the district or the bishop?

    Observation: United Methodists believe in hell? Who knew? :)