I read in the news today that Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is close to death. Westboro Baptist, if you have not heard of them, is extremely opposed to homosexual people and anyone else who varies from the heterosexual norm. I looked at their website and discovered not only that “God Hates Fags” but also “God Hates Islam”, “God Hates The Media”, “Jews Killed Jesus”, etc., etc. Reading their homepage I was reminded of a quote, I believe it was by Anne Lamotte, that goes “It’s a sure sign that you have created God in your own image when he hates the same people that you do”. If Anne didn’t actually say that, it sounds like something that she would have. I believe that Wesboro Baptist is as clear an example of that quote as can possibly be found. My intention in writing this article is not to bash Westboro however. As much as it pains me to see the word ‘church’ llnked with the positions and actions of that group of people I will have to let a complete rejection and denunciation of same await another day. Westboro founder Fred Phelps is near death, and I am writing to grieve that fact.
What was that? How can I mourn the passing of such a perversion of the Christian faith? Don’t I know that Fred Phelps and his followers picket at funerals for fallen American servicemen, condemning their service to a “fag loving nation” and celebrating the fact that they were killed? Yes, I know all of that. I have been told that they are a very small congregation and make the majority of their income by provoking outraged mourners into punching them out and then suing them. It is very unlikely that I will be relocating to Topeka any time soon and applying for membership at Westboro Baptist Church. I’m certain that I don’t know the half of their positions and activities and that I would be in danger of losing my breakfast if I did. Nevertheless, I still read of the predicted demise of Mr. Phelps in the near future and I mourn.
Death, you see, is not natural. Death is much more of a perversion of nature than is anything or anyone targeted by the Westboro bunch. Death was not created at the same time that life was. Life and the universe and everything in the universe was created and it was declared to be good; very good in fact. It was not until sin corrupted humankind that death entered into the universe; that death became the reality that has now attained a level of certainty that is equal to that of taxation. Death is the foundation of a universe which is still awaiting restoration by it’s Creator, and I cannot bring myself to rejoice over any evidence that rebellion still rules and restoration and reconciliation are not yet accomplished.
Mr. Phelps is a person created in the imago Dei, the image of God. God had a plan for Mr. Phelps that would have blessed him greatly, and that through him the world would have been blessed greatly too. Mr. Phelps did not follow that plan and the world has suffered for it, but the fact remains that within the core being of Mr. Phelps there is a man made to love God and love his neighbor; a man who loves peace, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness and humility among other godly virtues. For reasons I don’t know Mr. Phelps was bent and twisted into a person filled instead nearly to the top with hate and unforgiveness, strife and pride.
But before I pick up and throw the first stone I must examine myself. Do I hate? Yes, I do. Do I lust and have I, as Jimmy Carter once famously put it, “committed adultery in my heart”? Again, the answer is yes. Have I lied? Cheated? Gossiped? Slandered? Uh-huh, all of the above. That being the case, how can I measure up to the qualification that “He who is without sin cast the first stone”? I can oppose everything that Mr. Phelps seems to have stood for, but I cannot with a clear conscience celebrate his or anyone else’s death.
Mr. Phelps is very certain that a small number of people, mostly just like him, are going to ‘get in’ to heaven. Fags and ‘Fag Enablers’ are just a few of the vast bulk of humanity who will not ‘get in’ because God hates them. The news that will come as a shock to Mr. Phelps is that God is not hate, and God does not hate. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”. Love and hate can no more coexist than can light and dark, matter and antimatter, the Seahawks and the 49rs. God very much loves Fags, Muslims, people described by The N Word, and even white trash like me. Of course, that’s a blade that cuts both ways. God loves Mr. Phelps too. It seems that nobody is destined to be happy here.
So Mr. Phelps now lies on his deathbed, afflicted with some unknown disease and preparing to meet his God. All of this was not supposed to happen. Mr. Phelps was never supposed to die. Mr Phelps was not supposed to hate and lead others into hatred. Mr Phelps was not supposed to cause anguish and grief among the objects of his hatred. In short, Mr Phelps was a beautiful creature made in the image of God and loved by God who was twisted into a monstrosity by sin and will soon die an unnatural (they all are) death. And for that I grieve.