Don’t be a Fred Phelps hater

The enigmatic Fred Phelps has died. The church that he founded, the Westboro Baptist Church, made a name for itself by picketing funerals and public gatherings with signs proclaiming hate for soldiers, gays, and Jews – to name a few. At the end of his life his church kicked him out, his granddaughters rejected their family, and was deserted by the very people he led.

What can we say about a man who preached hate and bitterness?

It wasn’t until the 1990’s did America first hear about Fred Phelps, his family, and the Westboro Baptist Church. Millions were shocked to see so-called Christians carrying signs that read, “God hates fags” and “God hates you”. Over time the notoriety of Phelps and his family grew. Perhaps it was fascination. Certainly, as the age of the internet grew, America begin to love to hate them. More stories of this radical band and their message of hate spread through news websites, Facebook, and Twitter.

Fred Phelps and his ministry of hate was bizarre. It was not a message consistent with the message of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 is a common passage to refer to as an easy verse to describe God’s message of salvation. However, many folks do not read the next verse:

 

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Phelps and his church strongly believed in the hate and condemnation of anyone deemed against God. He never understood that by his message of hate he totally ignored John 3:17. For Fred Phelps hate was his game. He used hate to twist the Bible into a document and message of misguided self righteousness. Often the self righteous crowd believe that they are chosen by God and that anything they say or do is ordained by God – even if it does not fit within the message of the Bible.

I seriously disliked Fred Phelps and his church. But, I cannot hate him. I cannot hate him because Jesus said in Matthew 5,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

We are called to love, pray, and show compassion to our enemies, like Phelps. They do not deserve such treatment. But, if you want to change a person’s hate, you win their heart and mind with the action of love. The only way to change the Fred Phelps of the world is to intentionally love them.

It is easy to hate a man who hated others. If you hate the person who spreads hate, they you are no better. You use the very thing that they use. Jesus taught that we cannot be haters. What is more difficult is to love a person who hates you. Loving them does not condone their actions, but shines light in the places of darkness.

Alan Rudnick

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Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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  • A Central Texan

    I did not hate Phelps. But, I question whether he worshiped the God that I serve, given the way he mis-characterized God and denied the teachings of Jesus. And therefore, whether he was a Christian at all.

  • Jonathan Waits

    As a one-time member of a church that was on the receiving end of a Westboro Baptist protest because we preached the heretical (in their view) message that God loves everybody, I have witnessed first hand the results of Phelps’ hatred. Young children were standing on the sidewalk outside our church holding signs declaring that God hates various groups of people. This poison was sad to see in action. It has torn Phelps’ own family apart. That being said, Alan is right. The best response of orthodox believers to his death will be to let the family grieve in whatever peace they manage to find given their terribly small worldview. What a powerful example of loving an enemy it would be if a group of Christians actively worked to keep the likely protesters away from his own funeral even as they worked to keep the Westboro crowd away from the funerals of others.