Saving Them from Hell on Earth

Today was my day to write a sermon on hell. Our church is in a series called “Debunked” where we’re providing more clarity and theology around popular Christian concepts. 

We care deeply about where we’re going to go in the afterlife and it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of us don’t want to go to whatever this hell might be. In fact, much of Christianity is centered around saving people from this kind of torment. 

My outline was ready and I started writing.

 Most times that Jesus talks about hell in the scriptures he’s talking about Gehenna. What is Gehenna? It’s actually the Valley of Ben Hinnom. What happened at the Valley of Ben Hinnom? It’s a place where Ancient worshippers of the God Molech sacrificed their children. That’s right, it was a place of child sacrifice, usually by fire. 

By the time Jesus came around, the Valley of Ben Hinnom was renamed, Gehenna. It was still a place of torment and separation. Criminals were buried there, remnants of those who died in war were remembered in that place, and it was separated by a wall from the rest of Jerusalem. 

As I researched I decided that the hell Jesus was talking about might be in reference to a place we go when we die but was most assuredly a physical place here on earth. It’s a place of torment, of literal separation, of unspeakable pain, and misguided conflict. 

And then I stopped writing because it dawned on me that the children being separated from their families and caged at our border are in many ways living in the hell that Jesus is talking about. 

Children are held in lockups reserved for adults without connection to family. 

Children are consistently put in situations of danger and neglect.

Numerous reports address the fact that children have lice, no access to basic needs like toothbrushes and toothpaste, or soap and shampoo.

Children are sleeping on concrete floors while older children do their best to care for the young ones. 

Children have died in the custody of the Border Patrol.  

I read about the treatment of these children and am disgusted by that fact that they are living in the same hell that Jesus talks about in the Gospels. They’re living there by no fault of their own. 

What makes me angrier, is the fact that so many Christians will travel the world trying to “save” people from the hell of the afterlife but willfully do nothing about the hell our children are living in on our border. Instead they cite the law and authority of the government. That is a sad Christianity.

I’m fed up by the fact that too many of us worship a god so small that god would ask us to look at children living in hell and obey the government because laws were broken. 

I’m tired of the fact that so many cite the fact that the parents of these children are dangerous criminals. You know who else are dangerous criminals? The white, terrorist, American men who shoot up our schools, movie theaters, concerts, and municipal buildings. We don’t keep their kids in cages. 

I’m tired of the fact that so many are calloused towards the plight of humanity. As Brene Brown says, 

“If your response is, “Their parents shouldn’t have brought their children here illegally,” know this: I pray to God that you never have to flee violence or persecution or poverty with your children. And, if the day comes when you must and your babies are forcibly removed from your arms, I will fight for you too.” 

I don’t care about “debunking” the ideas of hell in the afterlife. I’m done writing this sermon for Sunday. That sermon is just an exercise in theology and it feels futile. I’m way more interested in how we stop hell on earth right now on our border and in our country. 

I start by reading this important work by Slate and working with one of the reputable organizations cited in the article. I’m asking that you join me. And, for the sake of humanity, let’s alleviate hell on earth. 

- Jonathan Williams

Robbie Klein