About a month ago I gave a speech at a public function. At one point in the speech I mentioned the catalogue of saints that have come before us and who even now labor shoulder to shoulder with us. Among those individuals I mentioned people like the Apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo, Catherine of Siena, and (in our own day) Desmond Tutu. Apparently that was one step too far: afterwards a gentleman came up and asked me why I had included Tutu in that esteemed group. Why not? I asked. After all, he was a catalyst in the fall of apartheid and the healing of a nation and he remains an Anglican priest in good standing.
The man replied that he remembered hearing something somewhere about Tutu not really being a Christian. So why, he repeated, would I include him?
A couple weeks ago I was speaking in another context when I mentioned great Christians of the past who have struggled with their doubts. In that list I included Martin Luther and Mother Teresa. Again a gentleman came up to me afterwards with a worried look on his face. Why, he asked me, had I mentioned Mother Teresa?
Why not? I replied. That tiny Albanian nun labored for fifty years among the poorest of the poor in India.
He replied that he had read somewhere — he thought it was Christianity Today but he wasn’t sure — that Mother Teresa had said all religions were the same. So, he informed me, Mother Teresa’s in hell.
Gak! Where’s Rob Bell when you need him?
I wish these cases were anomalies, but almost without fail in a public event like that somebody will take offense with one of the Christians I mention favorably, no matter how saintly, because of something they think they heard somewhere.
So here is a word of advice. Before you damn a fellow Christian to hell, at least do your homework. First, get the exact quote of their indiscretion carefully. Second, make sure you interpret the offending passage properly. Third, and most importantly, ask yourself why you are so concerned to establish that one of the purported saints of the church is really in hell. In fact, why not start with the third question? And then after you’ve answered that, see whether you still want to bother with the first two.