Regular readers know this blog doesn’t particularly try to post timely comments on hot topics. Plenty of other blogs do that and do it well. However, as a Christian and a Kansas who has had two indirect encounters with Fred Phelps, it is hard to let his death happen without a comment. The stories of my encounter with Mr. Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church are neither dramatic nor interesting. However seeing the mean and nasty signs and angry unpleasant behavior of them did make me think long and hard about how as a Christian I ought to respond.
Because I take baptism and the body of Christ seriously, I’m stuck taking Fred Phelps and WBC seriously. I don’t get to dismiss them as “crazy” or ignore them. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how much neither of us likes it. That’s the trouble with radically inclusive love, we’re stuck with some unlikable people and they are stuck with us.
So what to do? I’ve thought about this for a long time, years in fact. I never have resolved the situation to my satisfaction and I’m sure not to God’s satisfaction. And now Mr. Phelps is dead. So, now, what to do? Rejoice? Picket? Ignore?
When I think about Fred Phelps, alive or dead, mostly I feel sad for him. Sad that his life appeared to be filled with so much hate. What a small, sad and bitter way to live. Because I take salvation and eternal life and resurrection seriously I do hope that Mr. Phelps is finally in the presence of our loving God; healed, restored and made new. I hope that the events, situations, people, biochemistry,or whatever it was that caused him to be so unhappy and bitter that he would spread so much pain has been healed.
But you might ask, “What about judgment? Surely there is some accounting for what he has done, for the misery he has caused?”That is not my call and not my job. My task is to pray for and love people. Enemies and friends. The lovable and the unlovable. As to judgment, I trust God to do the right thing. I believe and hope that with God there can be judgment without punishment. I believe and hope there is judgment that is healing and reconciling. I hope. For Fred Phelps’ sake, and for your sake, and, not least, for my sake.
O God, the fountain of life,
to a humanity parched with thirst
you offer the living water of grace
which springs up from the rock, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Grant your people the gift of your Spirit,
that we may learn to profess our faith with courage
and announce with joy the wonder of your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen
A prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent
Book of Common Worship