Update: Pastor not ‘fired’ for not believing in hell

[Updated March 26, 2011] The pastor of a rural United Methodist church was fired from his job after voicing his doubts that sinners live an eternity of torment. At least, that was initially reported in various news outlets.

The Daily Mail writes:

Reverend Chad Holtz was dismissed from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson, North Carolina, when he posted a note on his Facebook page supporting a book written by prominent young evangelical pastor Rob Bell.

Bell is a much publicised critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days after he posted the comments, Rev Holtz was told he had been dismissed after complaints from church members.
He said: ‘I think justice comes and judgement will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment.

‘But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.’

Holz told his story to the Associated Press:

The Daily Mail explains:

The debate over Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. [Kindle editionoffsite | Buy a Kindleoffsite] has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube.

But hang on…

Blogger James Gibson writes:

As a former United Methodist pastor, I am familiar with the itinerant system in that denomination. Under that system, pastors are not “fired” or “dismissed.” They are merely reassigned by the bishop to another church. In most cases, this is a routine procedure. Every pastor is subject to reassignment on an annual basis and, if the UMC is still following the same calendar it followed during my tenure, this is about the time of year when decisions of that nature are being made. So, I have to wonder whether or not Mr. Breen has all the facts straight.

There are rare occasions when a congregation puts up such a fuss that a pastor is removed before the annual reassignments are made. But such a pastor would have to have been caught in the back pew of the sanctuary with the church secretary, three pygmies, and a chimpanzee before the bishop would make such a drastic move. A provocative post on Facebook hardly rises to that level. But, apparently, this was not Pastor Holtz’s first offense…

Chad Holz himself blogs:

As I reflect on all that has happened I regret that “fired” language (a corporate word that has no bearing in ecclesial matters like this one) got into the mix.   I have written some things over the years on my blog that have made members of my congregation unhappy, desiring that I take my show elsewhere.  This is true.  Equally true is this:   I was their shepherd and responsible for how, and where, I lead my sheep. A good shepherd doesn’t make his or her sheep jump the Jordan River when they haven’t had enough time to graze by the waters to get their strength.   A good shepherd knows his or her sheep well enough to know what kind of food they can stomach.    So this was less a firing and more a divorce.   My flock knew that I  couldn’t take them where they were ready to go and I knew I could no longer feed them effectively if I hung around.    The decision that I move on was painful for all parties involved.    Please keep that in mind as you try to make bad guys out of me or them.

Heather Hahn, a reporter for the United Methodist News Service, further explains:

[I]n his three years at Marrow’s Chapel, Holtz sometimes had a fraught relationship with some in the congregation, both he and [Holston] conference leaders said.

Earlier posts on his blog about homosexuality and displays of patriotism in church had previously caused tension in his congregation, Holtz said in correspondence with UMNS via Facebook.

Holtz’s pastor-parish relations committee, his local church supporters, advisers and mentors, discussed the concerns with him over many months, the conference said in a statement.

But Holtz said he and the congregation were content for him to finish his time there. “The ‘losing hell’ piece was just the final straw, as I understand it,” he said.

“Both Chad and the committee agreed that he would not post controversial topics online,” said the Rev. Gray Southern, his district superintendent.

“He broke the agreement, and the committee members felt betrayed,” Southern said. “The committee asked Holtz to leave the church, and he agreed.”

Holtz said he knew he no longer could be an effective pastor for the congregation. He also said Southern “has been fantastic in all this.”

Research resources on Rob Bell
Research resources on universalism


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 25, 2011.
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