I was hoping to be able to get something out on this before Fred Phelps died, which apparently I failed to do.
Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church where we use the term ‘church’ loosely as nothing of what I ever heard them connected to sounded anything like the idea of church that I have come to know and love.
An obvious indicator is that the website address of this ‘church’ is the unfortunate and not true GodHatesFags.com and Westboro are well-known for picketing LGBT events as well as military funerals.
The most unfortunate thing about this so-called church is that they were known so well for their ‘Hate’ – I’m not sure we ever got an idea of what they stood for or what they were about, but we certainly knew what they were against.
When I heard the news earlier this week that Fred Phelps was on his death bed, it did not give me cause for celebration as it seems to have given to some others.
As I read a variety of Facebook statuses, it became quickly obvious that a lot of people were conflicted with how to feel or what to think (and then usually reading some of the following comments under each status I would quickly come across at least one person who found it a lot easier to get there) but for me it was quite simple:
If we are celebrating the death of this man, then suddenly it starts to sound and feel like something he would have been a part of. I had the same kind of response to scenes of Americans dancing in the streets when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were killed. Are we glad that the legacy of violence and hate and destruction is over? At least as far as that particular person is concerned. Absolutely. But to celebrate a death, especially one of such a tragic life, feels like we are starting to be on the wrong side of good.
Don’t get me wrong. Fred Phelps and the actions of the WBC made me so angry and sad on many occasions. They were an embarrassment to the church and fortunately in one sense so over the top that I don’t think too many people seriously associated who they were and what they did with the rest of us.
BUT… Our response has to be Love. Praying for his friends and family. Praying that in his final moments of life, he might discover the Love of Jesus that is so much more powerful than the hate he had been holding on to for so long. Praying for an opportunity for repentance and deliverance from evil. And now hoping and trusting that for those left behind, a revelation of God’s incredible Love and compassion for the whole world will be forthcoming.
THE DANGEROUS THEOLOGY
Now I don’t have any right to judge Fred. He will stand in front of God and have to give account for his actions. And I don’t have any idea what the state of his heart and soul was as he ended his life here and prepared for the one ahead. But there is a point that I think needs to be made, for those of us who are left behind. I read someone’s comments about how he will be in heaven and have to dance with some of the Christian gay people he hated his whole life and how ironic and glorious that will be.
The first question I have from that is, ‘Will he be in heaven?’ (and this sounds like a judgemental post perhaps, but please just follow me where i am going here)
First passage that came to mind was from Matthew 7:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In fact, just a few verses earlier we read:
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
What is fairly easy to see is that the work of WBC was definitely not ‘doing the will of my Father who is in heaven’ and that if we are going to be recognised by our fruit, and Fred Phelps and WBC are obviously not showing the fruits of the kingdom as highlighted in Galatians 5:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Me talking about this now, has nothing to do with Fred Phelps any more. It has everything to do with me. And you. Because these are the same things that we are called to if we are followers of Jesus.
SOME TRUTHS TO CONSIDER
- It does not matter how much “stuff you do for God” if you stand in front of Him one day and His response is, “I never knew you!”
- A tree is recognised by its fruit – if our lives are not displaying Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithhfulness and Self-Control, then we need to be asking if we are Spirit filled. And if we are not, then we are not followers of Jesus, simple as that.
- Fred Phelps had his chance and will one day stand before God and have to account for his life. Brett Fish Anderson (and you!) is still in the midst of his chance and every day gets to make fresh decisions on how this life thing will look. That is the person I should be focusing on in terms of judging and holding up to the mirror of scripture.
In Matthew 22 we see Jesus asked about the most important thing:
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And in John 13 we see Jesus sharing a new command for us all to follow:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
And finally, there will be other Fred Phelpses and Westboro Baptist Churches – some will look really obvious, while some may be a lot more disguised and subtle in their approach. How we respond to them should perhaps be very much informed by reflecting on Jesus’ words of compassion and forgiveness spoken from the cross as He hung bloody and dying as well as this encouragement from the writer to the Romans, especially the last verse:
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, ” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Maybe now we will be able to come up with some more accurate signs:
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel