I’m going to hell. Or at least, that’s what some Christians like TV host and content creator Joyce Pring say will happen to non-believers like me.
Pring has since received flak from netizens who called her viral statement from an episode of the “Adulting With Joyce Pring” podcast an example of “religious self-righteousness.”
However, these criticisms confused some Christians who didn’t understand why people who didn’t believe in hell would be bothered by the assertion that they’ll automatically “face judgment and suffer an eternity in hell.” I guess it’s worth unpacking why this is an issue that can affect everyone in the predominantly Christian Philippines.
Let’s go back to Pring’s statement in the podcast. “I think what makes Christianity beautiful is that you don’t have to work for heaven. Jesus already did that for you. And so, the only thing that you have to really realize is [to] accept that gift,” she adds. Pring further explains, after her guest Wil Dasovich asked questions, that a murderer can go to heaven if they’re a believer who honestly repents while a non-believer who never did anything wrong in their life would still go to hell. Netizens spoke against the entitlement embedded in the belief that claims that good people go to hell and “saved” people are the only ones going to heaven. How does that even add up?
In response to the criticisms, she wrote, “I’ve had the messiest history, I’ve made bad decisions, I’ve hurt people… And that’s precisely why I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ—that salvation comes only through Him; not through our works, or by our own merit.” Like many Christians, Pring believes we are all born sinners and seems to be carrying the sense of personal shame, guilt, and dissatisfaction that has plagued those with an obsessive focus on sinfulness. This concept of salvation by grace is a cornerstone belief of many megachurches such as Christ’s Commission Fellowship, which Pring has talked about teaching Sunday school for.
While it sounds nice to have an equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card, there lies danger in believing that people can be absolved of all crimes, no matter how big, as long as they’re religious and show remorse. Real repentance should include justice and working towards becoming a better person. Believing otherwise is something that has historically allowed for bad people to avoid consequences and keep their influence while good, innocent people get persecuted or antagonized.
There are also churches that denounce beliefs like Pring’s. “Joyce Pring is one of the many products of the Evangelical Churches whose theology and interpretation shows a very small and limited understanding of God and Jesus Christ,” writes Rev. Joseph San Jose of the LGBT-affirming progressive church Open Table MCC. “As [Pastor] Brian Zahnd would say, ‘God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell…God is love.’”
“On a personal level, I’m not angry or irritated with her. After all she is but one of many who are enslaved in conservative Evangelicalism and Christian Triumphalism,” adds Rev. San Jose. “I pray that more and more Christians from their fold will find or discover a more liberating, justice-oriented, and humble version of Christianity that sees the face of Jesus in every single person, and even more so to those who are different in belief and practice.”
Religion can be a beautiful thing if centered on radical love instead of fearmongering. We have to let people like Joyce Pring know that we don’t have to live our lives constantly fearing damnation and that salvation can also be achieved through collective action. Isn’t that what the concept of being “God’s instrument” is about?