“I’m going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell.” Joel Osteen
There’s a bit of trouble brewing right here in river city between the newest member of the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, a local pastor, the city council, and the local citizenry. The trouble apparently started three years ago, when said pastor, Cary Gordon of the Cornerstone World Outreach, and a man named Scott Raasch engaged in a heated conversation on Facebook. Raasch. a gay man, was critical of Pastor Gordon and Cornerstone’s leading role in what the New York Times called, “An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same sex marriages in the state of Iowa. Here’s a piece of that conversation from 2010 between Pastor Gordon and Mr. Raasch.
In one comment, Raasch wrote: “You are haters and bigots and you will get what’s coming to you sooner or later. I hope you rot in hell.”
Gordon replied, “I hope you repent of your sins and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I wouldn’t want you or anyone else to go to hell.”
Raasch wrote, “I know Christ and don’t need a snake oil salesman like you to tell me about him. I guess that’s the difference between us because I think there are many people that deserve to burn in hell … including you and your entire family.”
Fast forward to three years later. The Sioux City Council voted to appoint Mr. Raasch to the Sioux City Human Rights Commission. The commission and it’s relationship to Cornerstone had been the source of controversy several years back, summed up here by the Sioux City Journal in August of 2010. “Two former members of the city’s Human Rights Commission told the City Council on Monday they believe the commission is no longer composed of a diverse membership, with almost half its members belonging to the conservative Cornerstone World Outreach church.” Over time, new appointments were made to the commission and the controversy died down.
However, with the appointment of Mr. Raasch, Pastor Gordon unearthed the three year old correspondence and called for the removal of Mr. Raasch from the commission. Mr. Raasch then apologized for his comments, which was accepted by Pastor Gordon, but Gordon continues to demand Mr. Raasch’s removal, as he feels Mr. Raasch will discriminate against people of faith.
This whole brouhaha and all this discussion of “hell” brought me back to the mid 1990′s. and an incident that happened to me in my bookstore, called “Bell, Book, and Candle”, a “New Age” store I owned and operated for five years. ”New Age’ didn’t exactly describe the store, in my view. I saw the store then as a gathering place for people of all ages, faiths, and belief systems, a place where everyone could feel comfortable and explore their own spirituality. And, it was.
We carried a cornucopia of volumes on religions and spiritual disciplines, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Wiccan, Kabalah, Buddhism, and Theosophy. We held workshops where people could discuss their beliefs and share their thoughts. We also had the first Gay/Lesbian section in the city. My customers were from all of those religions and I loved the free sharing of ideas. My Episcopalian priest stopped in a few times, as did Christians, Jews, and just about everyone else.
When we had been operating for a year or two, we heard that some Christians didn’t approve of the store, our progressive attitudes, our support of the LGBT community and all faiths, particularly the Wiccan religion who’s first rule is “do no harm”. There was a fairly active campaign against us. During that time, I was visited by an influential representative of the Cornerstone World Outreach. He came into the store and asked to speak to me. We sat down and he began commenting on the types of books I carried and asked me what my religion was. Despite that being not any of his business, I engaged. I told him I considered myself a Christian, I was born, baptized, confirmed, and married in the Episcopalian Church. My son was baptized there, as were most members of my family, for the last three generations. His concern, he said, was for my soul, and that running this operation could lead me to eternal damnation. I engaged again, arguing that I was a baptized Christian, as if I had something to prove to this man. And, as if I needed to prove to him how “Christian” I really was, when I had lapsed a bit by then, and was actively seeking other spiritual truths as well. My husband is Jewish and now a member of the human rights commission at issue. Would I have tried to defend him to make this man approve and why had he appointed himself not only the caretaker but the dictator of other human souls? He then cautioned me on the soul of my son. I think at that point, I’d had enough and politely asked him to leave.
I’ve always considered myself lucky that that conversation took place in the 1990′s, not the 1690′s. People like this churchman made up the judges of the Salem witch trials. I was put down, not put to death.
Even today, 15 years later, the whole episode makes me sad, as does the current controversy. We are a vulnerable human race, beset by poverty, violence, climate change, and war. Thousands die every day on our planet in conflicts over race, religion, and political leanings. Earth is a tough enough school, without we humans deciding who is doomed to a horrific afterlife. I can’t judge that for someone else. All I can do is keep looking in the mirror, keep doing the best work I can for non violence, and being the best wife, mother, friend, daughter, and sister I can be. I can also stay the hell (so to speak) out of another’s spiritual beliefs. If we want tolerance and respect for our own religion, or spiritual belief, we have to start by respecting others.
Pope Francis put it much more eloquently. He said, “Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.”. Amen.