"I'm curious, in your Christian beliefs, do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell, consistent with the Christian belief?" Gohmert asked. Lynn responded: "I wouldn't agree with your construction of what hell is like or why one gets there."
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected theological confrontation between a far-right congressman and an ordained Christian minister during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
The House Judiciary Committee hosted an otherwise unremarkable hearing on religious liberty when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) decided to press the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and state, on his personal religious beliefs. (Disclosure: Barry is a long-time friend of mine.)
Lynn, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, was invited to testify on behalf of religious minorities, but that apparently was not what Gohmert, a notorious right-wing Texan, wanted to talk about.
"You don't believe somebody would go to hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?" the congressman asked during the hearing.
When Lynn said he does not believe "a specific set of ideas" guarantees a one-way ticket to hell, Gohmert kept pressing. "Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don't."
The liberal sparring partner got in the last word. "Congressman, what I believe is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody," Lynn responded. "For the 2,000 different religions that exist in this country, the 25 million non-believers. I've never been offended. I've never been afraid to share my beliefs."
Gohmert, who never fully explained why this line of questioning was relevant in a congressional hearing, thanked the UCC minister "for his indulgence." A few hours later, Lynn reflected on the exchange on msnbc's "The Ed Show."
Also from the God Machine this week:
* A remarkable turn in the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal: "Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday."
* A bold divestment move: "A United Methodist Church fund is divesting from a multinational security firm that activists have criticized for its work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The church's General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is selling its stock in the U.K.-based G4S, which provides equipment and services for Israeli prisons, checkpoints and settlements in the West Bank. The Methodist board, which manages an investment portfolio of $20 billion, has $110,000 in G4S shares, church officials said Thursday."
* Atheists still appear to be one of the nation's least liked minorities. In the Pew Research Center's monster new report on American political polarization, respondents were asked how they would react if an immediate family married "someone who doesn't believe in God." A 49% plurality would be "unhappy."
* And a child asked TV preacher Pat Robertson this week what to do about the child's father threatening his or her mother with a gun. The televangelist suggested the child talk to the mother about getting help, but only after saying, "You don't want to get your father busted."