Fred Phelps, Founder of Westboro Baptist Church, Dead

Yesterday, which happened to be my ninth wedding anniversary, marked the end of the life of Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps was the founder and patriarch of Westboro Baptist Church. This “church,” a tiny group with a huge voice, was known for picketing the funerals of our soldiers with their “God Hates Fags” message. They represent all that homosexuals think Christians really are. And you know things are bad when even the KKK has protested your  protests. Wow.

I remember distinctly the first time I came into contact with members of this “congregation.”1 I was at Georgia Tech, and I had been witnessing to a number of homosexual classmates. One lesbian in particular was very interested in Christianity, and we talked once or twice a week. We had become friends of sorts. We didn’t agree on anything, but she had never experienced cordial and patient discourse on the Bible before, and she was having trouble putting me in the same simplistic compartment she had created for what she thought Christianity was—small-hearted, narrow-minded, ignorant, hateful superstition.

But then a group of picketers showed up at our “Free Speech” zone with signs saying things like “God Hates Fags” and “Homosex is Sin.” The thing is, I don’t necessarily disagree that God hates sin and is angry with the wicked every day. I don’t disagree that homosexuality is a sin. What I think is unhelpful about these groups is their hateful angry spirits, and their special distaste for only one kind of sin.

Homosexuality is not worse than adultery or murder. And given the ridiculous rate of unbiblical divorce and abortion in this country, I would say that heterosexual unfaithfulness is probably a bigger, more widespread issue than homosexuality.

Furthermore, sinners need and get grace and forgiveness. God may be angry with the wickedness of the wicked every day. But He has that right. That doesn’t mean we do. And even if we are to hate what he hates, that doesn’t mean we have the freedom to hate in the same way he does. Because he doesn’t have any logs of hypocrisy he needs to remove. We aren’t supposed to take revenge. Vengeance is God’s, remember? And James says specifically, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” And that’s just what I saw at that “Free Speech” zone that day—the anger of man.

If you’ve never witnessed this group picketing, you have no idea how discouraging and demeaning it is. They were literally screaming insults at everyone passing by. My lesbian friend passed by and got into a fruitless argument apparently. Later, she came up to me very distressed. She said, “Michael, do you agree with these people?” I told her, “I don’t agree with their emphasis or their methods.” And she said, “But you think homosexuality is a sin?” I told her I did. “Then you’re no different from them,” she said.

They ruined months and months of interaction in a few minutes. It took me months more before she trusted again that I wasn’t filled with a spirit of hate. I fail to see that they have ever done any good for the cause of Christ.

So with that, I hope that the passing of Fred Phelps means that his organization will fall apart. I really do. But not because I’m hateful. And I won’t rejoice in his death. But I hope all his children and relatives lose heart in this hateful and destructive misrepresentation of Christianity. It can’t happen soon enough.

  1. I’m assuming it was they, but it could have been a clone church preaching the same message. When I asked one of the agitators what church he belonged to, all he would say, after looking very bewildered, was, “I’m a member of the church of Jesus Christ.” He had been flipping through pages in his Bible looking very pious, and apparently he didn’t understand my questions at first because he was so lost in heavenly splendor. []