August 4, 2014

Christian Universalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 1:31 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

As a Unitarian Universalist minister I can be morally strong and clear without needing to set absolute rules.  I am moral and also free of eternal punishment for moral failings.  I don’t need to condemn others to an eternal Hell in order to tell them I think their actions are wrong. However, there are some people who find any openness or change in moral stance as equal to chaos, or worse. For example, a recent opinion piece by Dr. Michael Brown, posted on the One News Now site, floated to the top of the Google alerts on “Universalism”: Universalism is Next for the Soft Love Crowd

In it Brown says simply that if you become welcoming and affirming of gay and lesbian people, by blessing the marriages of such people, you begin sliding down the slippery slope to having no standards what so ever.

To his credit, Dr. Brown does admit that it is very difficult, even painful, to consider God punishing kind, thoughtful and devoutly compassionate people who do good work in the world. He admits it would seem cruel for God to do so. He writes, “I honestly believe that if questions like this don’t cause us some level of pain then we don’t really have the heart of the Lord.”

His response to this pain is to simplistically assert that it is wrong to move away from preaching about future wrath and divine judgement on issues of anything. Then he encourages his readers to pray that those who disagree with him will be brought “back to the truth as it is found in Jesus”.

Clearly he is writing to his own choir, but he misses two essential points. One is that wrath and judgement are real and serious theological issues, but do not necessarily entail eternal punishment in an eternal Hell. Despite all the condemning passages of scripture one must also deal with passages such as Psalm 30:5, Psalm 107:1, John 12:32, 1 Timothy 2:1-6, and Jeremiah 31:34 “…they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The second point he glosses over is that it is in the Truth of Jesus that people do find love, kindness, acceptance and the spirit of reconciliation that moves them to create a more just and inclusive community, instead of the eternally divisive and unjustly judgmental community created by Dr. Brown.

July 30, 2008

There is a Hell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:35 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This afternoon, sitting at a local Starbucks, I was reading chapters of Ahab’s Wife, purportedly written by First Mate Starbuck himself (actually written by UU author Sena Jeter Naslund).  Cool coincidence. 

A chapter or so later as the main character, Una, is having a last supper aboard the Pequod, she asks about religion in Nantucket, the town to which they are headed.  Of course, in their listing they mention the Unitarians (who Una’s mom had described as letting people believe as they wished.  “Only your behavior must be according to what is commonly held to be good.  You must be kind…”)  After Mr. Stubb calls one church “the Elephantists!”

Mr. Flask corrects, “Nay, it’s the Universalist Society.” 

“What is their belief?” Una asks. 

“That ye cannot be damned.  It makes no difference if ye worship elephant Hindu gods or the crescent moon.  There’s no hell, they say, and ye can’t go to it.  Salvation is universal.” 

At that moment Una’s husband, who is chained in the next room, crazy with grief and guilt and alcohol, cries out, “Hell.” 

The point is that Hell is real and very much a part of our experience.  We found that out in Knoxville this past Sunday.  When children  gathered before a UU congregation to sing “The sun will come out tomorrow,” a crazy man fired a shotgun three times, killing two adults in the audience and wounding five more. 

That must have been a bit of Hell. In Church of all places. Watching the people that they loved, trusted and identified with being shot; blood splattering all over.  I am glad the shooter still lives, to face what he did. To plumb the depths of his depression and insanity.  Perhaps, to wring some vision of salvation, forgiveness and healing from it all. 

It was the great American-Universalist theologian, Hosea Ballou, who insisted that freedom from Hell did not mean freedom from judgment for sin or from consequences of wrong belief.  Hell was for him, and is for us, very much a reality in this world, even if there is no place for it in eternity.  Hell is the world in which so-called ‘liberals’ are a scourge that is ruining this country and must be taken out with shotgun blasts.  Hell is a world in which a person is isolated, without community, without family, without work and about to lose his food stamps.  Hell is a crazy angry man with a gun in a church trying to end the worship of hope and love and courage.

  Hell was in the world of his own mind, and so he made it tangible and real in the world of others.