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Kirby: When religion makes it hard to be honest with self

Published March 28, 2011 7:19 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

According to a recent Associated Press report, Chad Holtz got fired from his church job because he didn't believe in hell anymore.

Wait, that's not exactly right. What Holtz doesn't believe in is the stereotypical Christian view of hell being a place where everybody but super-Christians gets pitchforked by demons for eternity plus a billion years.

Apparently, Holtz had a hard time relating a God of boundless love to a God who would damn his children to eternal misery.

Complaints from members of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina got Holtz sacked as their pastor. Apparently, they needed their hell more than they needed him.

Holtz says revealing his new belief was both liberating and frightening. It's probably scary because he lost his job, but liberating because he feels more comfortable being himself.

Honesty can be a real liability at church, which is funny considering all that emphasis on love and compassion and truth.

While a certain amount of conformity is expected in any group, you don't have to step too far out of line at church before you start scaring people.

Ironically, few things scare us more than the possibility of not being completely right about something far too big for us to fully comprehend in the first place.

People react like this because we tend to view a differing opinion of faith as a judgment of ourselves. This is particularly true in places where that judgment is supposed to flow in only one direction.

It happened to me once. OK, it's happened more than once, maybe a few times, like, I don't know… 100? But the first one was the most memorable.

A long time ago in an LDS ward far, far away, I was called to teach a Sunday school class. Things went OK until one Sunday when I wasn't prepared.

An hour before class, I opened the manual to find the lesson was on something I wasn't qualified to teach, namely something I didn't believe. So, I skipped it and went on to the next lesson.

After class, a woman wanted to know why I skipped the lesson. I told her the truth. Two days later I was in the bishop's office and a week after that I was released from teaching the class, all because I didn't have an unwavering testimony in [pick something].

I hadn't challenged anyone else's beliefs. I hadn't advocated for an overthrow of the existing doctrine. All I did was be candid about myself.

If the reaction over a minor doctrinal point was this severe, it makes sense, then, that people with significant differences opt out altogether.

Getting sacked wasn't as scary for me as it currently is for Holtz because a.) I wasn't getting paid to teach and b.) I've never felt bad about having a hell of a lot less to do.

But it was a valuable lesson in the mechanics of church. Far too often it ends up being a place where we get judged rather than a place to prepare for it.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or www.facebook.com/notpatbagley.






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