Friday, August 9, 2013

Has Anyone Ever Told You That You're Going to Hell?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

If someone has condemned you to hell, at least I'll be in the same boat with you!

Here is a sampling of the reasons I have been told definitively or warned by conservative Christians that I was going to hell:

  • Not being baptized at 5 or 6. How is this different from infant baptism? My parents encouraged me to wait until I had thought through it and I was baptized at 11, which was significantly older than most in my church.
  • Criticizing the Catholic Church for exclusion of women in an academic paper, with cited sources.*
  • Having gay and lesbian friends. This, in my view, was the worst. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love. Whatever you personally believe about sexuality, you should never exclude others or criticize people for loving their friends.
  • Telling a professor I was wrestling with Jesus' divinity. Isn't talking through this with Christians the way you are supposed to work these issues out?. *
  • Being a female minister. 

When people tell me they aren't Christians or don't go to church because they have serious issues with hypocrisy, even to the point where they question the existance of God, I get it. I have had similar experiences to most of these folks. Some of us who had these experiences decided to stay and work with more moderate churches and others decided that they needed to leave (or had no other option as they were surrounded by intolerant congregations). I see this as very similar to the Protestant Reformation--some Catholics were involved in an internal reformation and some got out and started/joined other denominations.

As part of a healing process, whether you stayed with the church or left, I would encourage you to forgive those who condemned you. I am an unabashed lover of Jesus, and whether you think he was Christ, a prophet, a nice man, or a crazy person, I'm sure we can all agree that he had some fantastic teachings. The miracle of forgiveness is that it releases you from the negative energy of hatred. When you don't forgive, you are chained to the person who wronged you indefinitely. The hatred grows and you become defined by it. In a sense, they win. But if you forgive them, you are released and love can take its place. Forgiveness transforms who you are and perhaps will change the person who wronged you in the long run. Maybe they will see that you live by the one rule that counts--love. Because, as John reminds us in 1 John 4:8, "God is love."

* Note: My college experience at was fantastic. Only two out of the dozens of professors I had were fundamentalists when it came to religion. The freedom of my college years allowed me to explore my thoughts and feelings in a way no church I had attended, until late in my junior year, allowed. Ultimately, this freedom brought me back to the church in a healthy way.


  1. Out of the many times I was told I am going to hell was in 2003. At UNC, my undergrad, there is a large sunken bricked "pit" near the cafeteria where a man would preach about the end of the world and various conservative issues (women/sluts, immigrants/terrorists, LGBT/"bad F words," etc). As a religious person who majored in religious studies, I'd sit and debate with him whenever I was stressed about something. As UNC is a liberal campus, this was a popular pastime for... 90% of the campus, so he usually had a debating crowd. This time, however, we were talking about LGBT issues and I firmly stated that LGBT people are people and are perfectly fine and he said they were going to hell. I told him I enjoyed debating with him, was continually praying for my fellow persons, and was going to class. As I got up, he yelled out, scandalized, "AND SHE'S WEARING PANTS! WOMEN CANNOT WEAR PANTS! MADAM, YOU ARE ALSO GOING TO HELL." And my response? "No, sir. I'm going to Divinity School."

    Later, a friend followed him to his car and they chewed the fat for a few hours in a coffee shop and it turns out the UNC Pit Preacher had been hired by an anti-religious group to make religion seem noxious in a public place. Tadaaaaaa!

    1. Let me rephrase- instead of "conservative," please read that as "extremely religiously fundamentalist."

    2. I would like to give you both a slow clap a la Orson Wells and a standing ovation for this story. I loved the twist ending! :)

  2. So, hey! Laura has encouraged me to share this story as well. I'm a redhead, with VERY fair skin, freckles, and when I was younger, flaming red hair. I mean, there was no hope that when people saw me, they might say it was brownish. I loved my hair and reveled in the fact that I might be (hair-wise) related to both Wendy (of burger fame) and Ronald McDonald. I loved this! I also loved church- the services, the sermons, the liturgy, God, the whole shebang. I was raised SBC in a very large and well-known church in Dallas, Tx and some of the people I was around felt very set in their views. We were taught that it was kind to tell the truth, not that it could be kind to use your words for benefit instead of harm. And, along with a prevalent view that claimed yoga was evil and manipulated the spirit to embrace Satan, that view also said that red hair was a sign of an evil nature. Why? Because Judas had red hair and he and Satan were obviously BFF. And red was the color of the devil. I... don't really know, since this obviously was not a subject I spent much time reasoning out. But was I told, multiple times as a CHILD that I was going to hell because of my hair, which indicated that I had a sinful spirit and loved Satan? Yes. Yup. This church also told me I couldn't be a pastor because I was a woman and that had a rule that said that Sunday School classes over elementary aged kids couldn't be taught by women (alone, at least- a woman could teach as long as she was married and her husband taught with her).

    I was a kid.

    1. This is just so horrible. I am so glad that you are very much in the church, very much living out your calling, and that you know you are a loved child of God. Those folks, at the end of the day, have to answer for how many people they drove away from the church and harmed mentally. Proud to have been in the div school community with you and to call you my friend!