Fred Phelps, R.I.P. Mr. Westboro Baptist Church

Pastor Fred Phelps pictured in 1998I often pose a question to my classes based on the old James Kennedy book, Evangelism Explosion, “If you were to die tonight and stand before a holy God, what would you say?” (I know this isn’t exactly the question Kennedy used, just my version.) I don’t think it will work this way, but it is a clarifying question, and can bring focus to several things. I causes us to evaluate our relationship with God. If we were to stand under judgment before God tonight, would we be terrified or assured? Would we have a lot to say, or would our mouths be stopped?

I can’t help but think about this today after learning of the death of “Pastor” Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church yesterday at age 84 in Topeka KS, about 200 miles from where I sit. Phelps brought international notoriety to his tiny congregation. It was not because of its phenomenal growth. It was not because of its reputation for good deeds in the community. It was not because it was a beacon of hope in a dreary and weary world. It was for one thing: the congregation’s protests at various events in a brazenly hateful manner. This can be seen in the name of the group’s web site, Phelps was so disgusted and repulsed by homosexuals that he believed all of the bad things happening to America were a result of God’s judgment against our country due to toleration of anything gay.

This led Phelps and his followers to stage protests at military funerals, claiming that the death of American soldiers was a result of God’s judicial wrath against the USA. I encountered such a protest myself at the North American Christian Convention a few years ago in Cincinnati. When exiting my hotel to go to the convention center across the street, I found it necessary to walk through a Westboro protest line. I asked one of the young women carrying a “God Hates Fags” sign (or something similar) why they were there, and received no answer. I cannot tell you why the NACC was targeted. I never learned why.

So if Fred Phelps is standing before a holy God right about now, what would he say? Will he claim to have been God’s most faithful servant, willing to endure the world’s scorn for the sake of biblical truth? I certainly don’t know what he would say.

Why is it that our zeal for truth is sometimes tipped to become intolerance? Is it possible to love truth and hate others? I think these are tough questions worth asking.

Do I approve of homosexual behavior? No. Do I hate homosexuals? No. Do I love truth? Yes, Was I embarrassed and disappointed by the activities of the Westboro Church? Yes. I regret them using the label “Christian.” I even regret them using the label “Baptist,” and I am not even a Baptist, but have many brothers and sisters who are.

So Rest In Peace, Fred Phelps. It is not any sort of game for you any more. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

Mark Krause


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