Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fred Phelps--Writing His Obituary

Word has come via the internet and tweet and other sources that Fred Phelps of the ill-famed Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas is dying. I don' t know anyone in our time who has done more to set back people's understanding of church and the cause of Christ than this man. I don't know any one person who has caused more hate and anguish than this one man. He led efforts to picket funerals of dead soldiers simply because this was God's judgment on a nation that did not (officially) bash gays. He sent a group to Matthew Shepherd's funeral out West after he was murdered for being gay. It must have been hard for Matthew's parents to weep at their son's grave while supposed-Christians from Topeka spewed out hatred and glee because Matthew got what he deserved. Rev. Phelps preached a gospel that was narrow, mean-spirited and judgmental to the core. He hated just about everybody from the President on down. What are we to say about this man who left the world worse than the found it--or tried?

First, I'd remind people that Fred Phelps does not represent the church of Jesus Christ. He had only a handful of followers yet this little cluster of less than fifty people made headlines everywhere. One wonders how much damage this man and his little cluster could have done without the TV cameras and the stories that poured out from all our newsrooms. Sometimes all the news--with a little n--is not fit to print.

But back to the obituary. Brandon Wallace, a gay Southern Baptist--with a very fine blog--has written a wise article on how we respond to Phelps' demise. He says we ought to picket his funeral--but with love. He reminded me that Phelps for all his meanness still is a child of God. Instead of surrounding that gravesite with ugly posters and screaming words--we might remember the old simple gospel word: love one another. Who knows what Phelps carried in his very troubled heart. Who knows where all that venom and hatred came from. But Brandon Wallace is on to something--the Christian faith is not squishy and sentimental--the commands of our Lord are sometimes hard to bear. If we place Jesus' words down beside this old mean broken man--what would he say. Who knows? Maybe Jesus would respond as he did when he stood beside Lazarus' tomb. Jesus wept. Perhaps he weeps over this man who never, ever, it seems, understood that Jesus really does love all the children of the world.


1 comment:

  1. The more he preached hate, the more people began to realize how stupid it is to hate.
    Fred Phelps changed nothing and his life was a waste.
    Hate never wins because love is the only answer.

    George Vreeland Hill