“I Hope You Rot in Hell:” Greetings from a Liberal Fundamentalist

Are there “fundamentalists” of every political and cultural persuasion?  That is, do some people cling to such extreme and unbending worldviews—from the political and cultural left as well as the right—that they lash out at any dissent?  People—religious or not—who cannot tolerate any deviation from the Truth As They Know It?

It seems we have an example of such a thing from the cornfields of Iowa today.

The Sioux City Journal reported recently on a simmering conflict between an evangelical pastor and a gay politician.

Pastor Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach complained that Human Rights Commissioner Scott Raasch had made hateful and threatening comments a few years back.  At issue, apparently, was The Reverend Gordon’s opposition to Iowa Supreme Court judges who had supported gay marriage.

A few years ago, according to the Sioux City Journal, their disagreement degraded into the following Facebook exchange:

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.”

Ouch.

The Reverend Gordon called for Raasch’s removal from the Human Rights Commission.  Someone with such extreme views, Gordon argued, should not be in charge of making rulings on discrimination cases that involve religious issues, as well as issues of race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation.

Raasch has admitted that he made the comments, and apologized for any stress caused.

Is this an example of what we might call “liberal fundamentalism?”  A case where someone feels so morally assured of his own righteousness that he lashes out at dissenters in such an angry way?

 

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16 Comments

  1. Mr. Laats, I applaud your effort to give every side of this issue a fair shake. Truly, I do. You consistently display a level of magnanimity that is rare in this day and age. But in this one case, I believe your efforts are leading you to forget a few points that are really quite vital.

    Raasch is not simply someone with a particular opinion on a political issue. This is no abstract concept for him. He is gay. He must live with the implications of Gordon’s theology, a theology that teaches that men like Raasch will be tortured for all eternity. That a divine being, which perfect wisdom and perfect goodness, will sentence Raasch and all those like him to such a fate.

    Also note, Gordon is not content to maintain his beliefs in private. He feels he must bring them into the public sphere. He does this by opposing Iowa judges that support gay marriage. He has a political stance that, if implemented, will hurt Raasch by denying him the same rights and benefits heterosexual couples have always enjoyed.

    Therefore, I submit to you that Raasch is not simply “someone [who] feels so morally assured of his own righteousness that he lashes out at dissenters.” It is not an inflated sense of one’s own righteousness that causes a person to object to mistreatment, but rather, a sense of one’s own dignity. I belief the charge of fundamentalism is unwarranted in this case.

    P.S. I will, however, freely concede that Raasch’s wishing eternal damnation upon, not only his opponent, but his opponent’s whole family, was going rather too far.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the note and the kind words. For the record, I agree that homosexuals have justification for feeling angry or beleaguered. Also for the record, I personally think anyone who wants to should be able to get married.
      But what if we play a little devil’s advocate in this case?
      Mr. Raasch could feel attacked by Mr. Gordon’s public advocacy against gay marriage rights.
      But Mr. Gordon, or those who share his beliefs, could also feel attacked by some of the things that might go on in public schools. It would not give Mr. Gordon any right to assault his antagonists, verbally or otherwise. For instance, consider the record of Mozert v. Hawkins County. In that case from the late 1980s, conservative evangelical Protestant parents complained that school materials taught their children damnable ideas. After initial success, the parents lost their case in federal court.
      Couldn’t those parents make the same claim made by you and Ms. Shatto? That is, couldn’t they say that they have every right to verbally attack their antagonists, since those antagonists directly threatened (from the parents’ point of view) the eternal salvation of their children?
      In other words, do readers like me and you and Ms. Shatto only grant the right to bellicosity to those with whom we agree, such as Mr. Raasch? I know I would be horrified–indeed I have been horrified–when conservative evangelical Protestants threatened their foes with eternal damnation. But I’m guessing that other conservative evangelicals might sympathize, with the reason if not the threat.

      Reply
      • I sense that focus on the original question has shifted in these comments. As I understood it, that question was whether the comments made on Facebook by Mr. Raasch constituted a fundamentalism of the left. My reply stated why, in my opinion, it does not. I had no intention of granting an exclusive right of verbal bellicosity to Mr. Raasch, nor of withholding such a right from Mr. Gordon.

        Raasch was angry and bellicose; Gordon was condescending and demeaning. The exchange between them does not put either in a very favorable light, but neither does it constitute an actual threat on Mr. Raasch’s part. On the other hand, if as claimed in the article Mr. Gordon opposed the judges who had supported marriage equality, he was actively working to deny Mr. Raasch equal rights under the law. His stance would result in actual harm to the GLBTQ community.

        The whole idea of hell and eternal punishment is strictly in the realm of belief. It is neither testable nor falsifiable. Thus it is not a matter of concern to our legal system. “I will burn your house down” is a concrete threat; “I hope you rot in hell” is not. I question whether even “I condemn you to rot in hell” would be considered threatening speech by the courts, since there is no way that the speaker could turn the statement into provable action.

        In the U.S. free speech rights are very near to absolute. Witness the lack of any legal action against Sarah Palin’s infamous target image directed at Gabby Giffords. I think that a strong argument could be made for removing Mr. Raasch from the Human Rights Commission based on the failure of judgment that his intemperate speech demonstrates, but I also firmly believe that he had a right to write what he did.

      • “Equal rights under the law” has to be determined legally and I am not aware of a nation-wide vote on SSM being implemented as US law. Christians also operate under another law so that even if SSM is legal in the US, it would not necessarily be legal for US Christians. To thus claim that this would harm the LGBTI community is speculative unless you have evidence that SSM has improved the quality of life of SS couples. If that is the case, please present or link to such studies.

        There are many things neither testable nor falsifiable in the law (e.g. concepts of human rights and property) so your claim that this is not a matter of concern to your legal system is a non-sequitur. Since humans can conceive and regularly use the concept of infinity, infinite torment is a metaphysical possibility and thus is not simply a belief. Such a claim is in itself a “belief” so it would be nice if supporting evidence followed personal claims/opinions.

  2. I agree that Raasch’s comments were intemperate and may indeed be sufficient to call into question his suitability as a member of the Human Rights Commission. On the other hand, as a gay man Raasch is not writing simply as an advocate for an ideological position but rather as a direct target and victim of Gordon’s bigotry. As such, he has every right to be angry, and I can understand his reaching the point of lashing out against his tormentor. I would not call that “liberal fundamentalism” because it is not motivated by doctrinal differences but rather by personal feelings of injury and desire for retaliation. How he chose to express those feelings is unfortunate, given his public position. He may be deficient in good judgment, but I would not view this incident as an example of the mind-set that you are describing.

    The terms “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” have in recent years been used so broadly that it is difficult to know what definition any individual writer is applying. I thank you for defining the term as you mean it in this post. “Fundamentalism” originally described a very particular set of orthodox Christian beliefs, none of which had anything to do with human sexuality (unless you want to include belief in the Virgin Birth under that rubric), abortion, birth control, etc. I find myself avoiding it in my own writing, simply because it has been applied so broadly that it has lost most specific meaning.

    I do agree that there are persons who are rigidly doctrinaire on the left as well as on the right. I don’t see that as being nearly so widespread as is narrow rigidity on the right, however. Perhaps that is because being able to see different viewpoints and accept ambiguity is generally viewed as a positive value by liberals but as a negative flaw by conservatives.

    Reply
    • 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.”

      Dear Marian, kindly highlight pastor Gordon’s “bigotry” and state in exact detail how Raasch was a “victim” of said “bigotry.”

      Reply
      • Chaz, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-10-14-iowapastor13_ST_N.htm

        Vindictive bigotry and animosity, with the intent of harming Raasch and all other gay people in Iowa.

        No, I don’t want him to go to Hell, myself, but I don’t think he should be a “pastor”. There could be gay children in his congregation, whom he harms by his wicked rejection of God’s creation.

      • Hi Clare,

        You will have to be more specific as I can see no “Vindictive bigotry and animosity, with the intent of harming Raasch and all other gay people in Iowa.” in the link provided.

        Rather, he is doing what the ACLU did at the Scopes Trial i.e. using an instance to change laws which I should think is everyone’s right (granted I am not a US citizen so correct me if I’m wrong).

        Also, I am perplexed by your “wicked rejection of God’s creation” claim. Could you lay out your theological reasoning?

      • Chaz, Your lack of perception and your theological ignorance are not my concern. If you had ears to hear, you would hear. Go and look on the internet.

        He wants law to oppress people for something that does no-one harm. If you cannot see that is evil, I pity you.

      • Clare, you assume your conclusion without doing any work to show that it is valid. Gordon is not oppressing anyone but advocating for his opinion as you are free to do for yours. There is nothing inherently illegal or evil about this process. For you to claim that SSM “does no-one harm” requires some sort of proof. Sadly none is presented for consideration. This type of argumentative style however, will not win of soften anyone to your cause. Quite a pity indeed.

  3. No, Mr. Laats, I do not believe Raasch and Gordon’s little fracas is the same kind of issue as was seen in Mozert v. Hawkins Co. School Board.

    Raasch desires the right to marry the person of his choice and to have this marriage legally recognized by the state of Iowa. This is a right freely available to other people, provided they are heterosexual. Raasch wants this right to be extended to include him. Gordon’s political stance, his opposition to the judges on the state supreme court, aims to deny Raasch this right.

    In Mozert v. Hawkins Co. School Board, the parents claimed the right for their children to attend public school without being exposed to ideas that contradicted their religious teachings. But, this right does not exist. When we are in the public sphere, we are not entitled to an environment that never challenges our private religious beliefs.

    Reply
  4. Donna

     /  August 5, 2013

    I’m a Christian. And I would tell Pastor Gordon that he was out of line not only in what he said, but in whatever undertones were behind the statement.

    Reply
  5. Donna

     /  August 6, 2013

    @ ChazIng That is an excellent question. Thank you. My statement exposes to you and the rest of the readers my gut reaction to the article, the indignation that stirred up in me as a result of reading it, and what I believe to be a statement of truth. In reality, I would have taken a few essential deep breaths, calmed down, and put myself in a state of mind to make sure I spoke with kindness, if I were to speak to Pastor Gordon directly.

    Reply
  6. John

     /  May 30, 2014

    Cary Gordon, in my time knowing him personally, tends to be passive aggressive. I do not support Raasch’s comments, but at the same time they’re very understandable, since Gordon has a personality and demeanor that pushes people’s buttons until they reach a personal point of exasperation. When I read Raasch’s comments, “exasperation” is the description that comes to mind immediately. I have known several people, even hardcore Christian conservatives who share his views on all things political, who feel similar about Gordon and have said the same things in private.

    Reply
  7. I ran across Gordon for the first time yesterday. In the wake of the Obergefell decision he has gone apoplectic with rage. Some of his comment threads have been cleared out, but the posts and discussions speak pretty well for themselves. In 2013 was he using the same level of militant language and prediction as he is now? And telling people to leave their churches if their pastors don’t align with the minority on Obergefell?

    Reply

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