Now to take on Westboro Baptist Church and its infamous founder, Fred Phelps (I know that friends just heard my literary shotgun racking knowing I take after the fiery Protestant preacher branch of the family tree). I must preface my remarks by saying that I believe God is who He says He is as stated in the Manufacturer’s Handbook. He has certain standards that all of us have deviated from to some degree, and a lot of people don’t like those standards.
He has those standards because He loves His children and wants the best for them. I often add this caveat in my articles, that you’d better believe I’ve deviated from His standards as well. I am not going to launch into some holier-than-thou, legalistic tirade designed to make everyone feel bad about themselves while I have my own issues to work on.
Sometimes God does use people called prophets to bring truth and light into troubled times. It is a thankless job. There are instances when everybody hates a prophet. We can get all comfortable in their cozy little nests of self-indulgence when some fearless, outspoken, insightful annoyance comes along and ruffles our feathers.
But these messengers remind us that even if we know we’re on the up elevator at the end of our lives, our choices now affect our station then. They also prod us to remember that sometimes the down elevator’s just a button push away. Prophets can be used to remind us that God is not only a God of love, but a God of justice and judgment. As Mother Theresa said, He is burning out of us everything unlike Himself.
So are Fred Phelps and his followers prophets? Did God Himself shape their messages to soften hearts and save souls? Probably not. Jesus laid down the rules and told us what we must do to follow Him, but He was also a friend to many different types of people. He loved the sinners (the entire human race) and hated the sin, sin being what He defined as such, not legalistic megalomaniacs with their own agendas.
Even prophets can tackle evil and sin head on without alienating themselves from their own species entirely. There is much to be said for tact and diplomacy when trying to open people’s eyes to self-destructive behaviors. Even when resorting to direct confrontation, it can be done without violence and especially without targeting innocents who have nothing to do with the issue at hand, like the Snyders.
My single biggest problem with Fred Phelps and followers is that, as Augustine said, by parading select segments of God’s Word, it is not the gospels they believe, but themselves. They have picked out the pieces they want to promote (ironically, not unlike some of their critics), and twisted these random spare parts into some sort of Machiavellian theological junkyard. Here we go again with the Narnian “dwarves are for the dwarves” dynamic I’ve discussed before.
Look at some of the signs that Westboro carries around: “God Hates Fags” “God Hates America” “God Hates Jews” “Thank God for 9/11” “God Sent The Shooter” “God Hates You” “Pray For More Dead Soldiers.” Evidently their god needs more fiber in his diet, because he doesn’t seem to like anybody.
This certainly isn’t the God of the Bible, who loves His children even when they’re wrong. He loves Jews, soldiers, freedom, peace, justice, and safety. You know that someone is preaching the wrong message when it doesn’t line up with the Holy Book. That is the litmus test, the gold standard.
This isn’t to say that God’s going to tolerate our wrongdoings forever; He’s not. We are capable of contradicting His precepts to the point that we bring down hurt on ourselves. For more information on that, I defer to the Manufacturer’s Handbook, because He said it, not me.
That said, God does not operate the way Westboro Baptist Church operates. He doesn’t show up at funerals to berate people, but to comfort people. When He makes His truth clear, He does it in a way that opens an avenue to grace and salvation, not in a manner that shuts people out completely. His nature and actions are designed to better people, not destroy people. He decides who’s in hell, not cult members who brainwash their own little kids into waving placards they don’t even understand.
If Fred Phelps is sincere in a desire to lead people to Christ and prevent God’s wrath, he needs to do the following. First, he needs to ensure that what he is saying is straight Bible, not his own embellished version. New Testament 101 is in order.
Second, he should temper messages warning of God’s judgment with empathy and compassion. Third, he should find a different way to get the message across instead of TARGETING THE FUNERALS OF THE VERY MEN AND WOMEN WHO DIED TO PROTECT HIS FREEDOMS.
I could go on, but it is apparent that Phelps is not that kind of a leader. He seems to be one of those white-washed tombs that gets mentioned in my blogging as much as the Narnian dwarves do, maintaining an appearance of purity on the outside while the inside is full of dead men’s bones.
Phelps overlooks his own obnoxious sin to attack people he doesn’t even know are sinning– strangers at events like funerals! He is caught up in the very deception that made damnation a possibility for humans to begin with, that we know better than God does. He’s bitten right into that ancient apple, sold to humanity by the smoothest, slimiest produce salesman of all.
I hope that God wakes him up to the fact that he is driving more people away from the true gospel of Christ than he might ever save. He makes people afraid to get anywhere near Christianity, because he portrays it as an exclusive club that only people who do things his way can join. What he calls gospel seems to be a wickedly gleeful ego masturbation session that he flaunts as salvation when in fact it is alienation.
Phelps, today you may have hidden behind our divinely inspired and blessed Constitution to keep ramming your trash down people’s throats. But they didn’t do it for you. They did it for all of us. I want people to understand that this is the price of freedom even though it’s upsetting.
Voltaire said, “I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” We are a diverse nation, but most of us agree that we should not be able to put constraints on other people’s ideas. To preserve our freedoms, the Court today had to allow you to persist in your reckless attacks on some of America’s finest people.
God is truth and grace. You dwell so heavily on your version of the truth that there is no grace left. You omit the very part of God’s character that would make people want to come to Him when confronted with the truth.
If you believe that you can justify pure hatred and frightening harassment on a scriptural basis, this sister will go to the mat with you and put you in a doctrinal headlock that will have you seeing your chiropractor for a year. I’m no minister, but I can’t stand when people deviate from the scriptures and invent their own brand of creepy religion to satisfy the holes in their souls.
At the end of your life, maybe you’re expecting God to say, “well done, faithful servant, well done.” I don’t know what He’s going to say to you. I guess I don’t have the same insights you do into who’s sure to wind up in heaven and hell. But as long as you’re in the business of getting everyone else prepared for judgment day, think long and hard about what’s going to be said to you.
Your actions have the power to turn thousands of His children away from Him instead of towards Him. You are supposedly trying to warn others, and right now I say to consider yourself warned as well. Are you doing His work, or your own?
Lastly, I know that a lot of people question the existence, authority, and goodness of God. There are many valid reasons for that. Perhaps what faith you had has been shattered by Phelps-like people who are all truth, including their truth, and no grace.
C.S. Lewis had a very interesting take on this. He said that a mere man who said the things that Jesus did is either a lunatic on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg or is the Devil of Hell. Either He’s the son of God like He says He is, or He’s something much worse.
I do know this– despite what the Westboro Baptist Church is telling you, He loves you. He may ask you to change some things, but the love and acceptance He will give you for surrendering anything else is worth it.
He made you, He wants the best for you, and He is who He says He is, not who others make Him into to suit their own purposes.
God desires that we live in grace, not legalism imposed by the personal preferences of other people. We must be quick to discern if a person is pointing toward God’s Word or simply imposing his own mandates under the guise of spirituality. –Charles Stanley
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