Pain inflicted on the loved ones of recently killed soldiers is abhorrent in my opinion. Telling anyone that God hates them and they are the root cause for every bad thing that happens is repulsive. Inciting violence in order to support your hate ministry is detestable. I don’t have a nice thing to say about the Westboro Baptist Church or its founder Fred Phelps. I even have a hard time admitting that the members of that “church” are human and deserve any rights. In short, I hate them. I hate what they do to people. I hate the way they say they represent Christianity. I hate the pain they inflict. I, I, I, I hate. I also wholeheartedly believe that God does not hate them. I don’t know how this is possible but I also don’t claim to know how God does anything.
Now Fred Phelps is reportedly dying. His son says that he was excommunicated from the church late last year and one can only hope that his impending mortality has caused him to change his heart but I doubt it. People have been encouraging people to picket his funeral and give him a taste of his own medicine. I read a great reflection on this idea. I love what he has to say abut grace.
However, it is moments like this that I have to re-evaluate where I stand, theologically. You see, I believe Christ has grace for people like Fred Phelps as much as he has grace for me. Even though I’m not quite sure I believe in a literal hell of eternal burning, I do believe there is a hell that we put ourselves into, even after death, until we can break free of certain chains and mentalities (racism, sexism, homophobia) that keep us in injustice – and I hope that Phelps does not stay there long. I wish hell upon no one, because I want all souls to encounter the true love that God has to offer.
My final prayer is that people do show up to his funeral as a show of pageantry. I hope they show up with large, decorated signs and billboards. I hope they line the streets leading to the funeral home, and I hope that they make sure they are seen. Finally, I hope every one of those billboards and signs read, “We forgive you.”
How great would it be to trust God enough to show love and mercy to this man and his family who have inflicted nothing but pain on the world. I am not sure that my heart is ready to do what the writer above is asking but I pray that it will get there soon. We receive God’s grace because of the magnitude of God’s love and God’s love is infinite. I pray that “the Lord direct (my) heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5) For “indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) I think we should try to follow his example and show Fred mercy where he has shown none.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
-1 John 3:11-24