Leader of the second largest congregation in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner has declared that Christianity is not the only way to heaven.
Kershner, 45, who leads the 5,500-member Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, expressed her belief in a podcast with the Chicago Sun-Times after she was asked the question "Is Christianity the only way to heaven?"
"No," Kershner replied bluntly.
"God's not a Christian. I mean, we are ... For me, the Christian tradition is the way to understand God and my relationship with the world and other humans and it's for the way for me to move into that relationship but I'm not about to say what God can and cannot do in other ways and with other spiritual experiences," she explained.
The Christian Post reached out to Kershner's office for further comment Friday but she did not respond by press time.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) preaches "the sovereignty of God, the authority of the scripture, justification by grace through faith and the priesthood of all believers."
"Our knowledge of God and God's purpose for humanity comes from the Bible, particularly what is revealed in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ," the church declares.
According to the Presbyterian Panel Survey, 2012-2014, 45 percent of PCUSA pastors strongly disagree or disagree that "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved."
Author Robert Velarde, who is a former editor for Focus on the Family, argues that anyone who accepts the Bible as true would also accept that Jesus, who is the head of the Christian church, is the only way to heaven.
"In the Bible, Jesus said, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me' (John 14:6, NIV). In Acts 4:12, the Apostle Peter said of Jesus, 'Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved," he wrote in "Is Christ the Only Way?" for Focus on the Family.
"The question is not whether or not this is a 'narrow-minded' position, but whether or not the claims are true. Jesus spoke of a personal creator God who calls everyone to repentance, offering redemption to those who will receive Him. This is not an intolerant or mean-spirited position to hold. If it's true, then sharing this message is the most natural and loving thing to do," he added.
Before sharing her position of salvation, Kershner, who started at Fourth Presbyterian church in 2014, said she regularly doubted the existence of God at times.
For instance, in the aftermath of the deadly Las Vegas massacre, she said, "God has some explaining to do."
"Doubt is healthy, doubt is not the opposite of faith, it's fear," she said.
When asked if she believed there is a Heaven, Kershner said "I believe so."
"... I believe there is a sense that death is not the last word. I do believe there is a sense of homecoming in God, a relationship. I don't know what that looks like. I'm trying not to think of it temporally or spatially," she added. "I do believe that life continues in God in a way I can't explain or understand."
She picked Isaiah 25 and the poetry of Revelation 22 as among her favorite scriptures.
When asked what she thought about hell, she said she doesn't think the God she knows from the Bible will be sending anyone there.