God finally gave up on giving Fred Phelps a chance to repent this week. Even days removed from his death, many were disappointed there could be no funeral protest according to WIBW Channel 13 in Topeka, KS. The Guardian perfectly encapsulated the difference between an atheist and heretic Friday, March 21.
The influence of the Westboro Baptist Church that Phelps founded had ripples to the Bay Area. His claim that America enables sin by condoning homosexuality is ludicrous given the state of California—you know, land of hippies and socialists and those people the protesters were fond of referring to by slur on their signs—actually passed a law forbidding gay marriage in 2008.
How ironic this "church" fought for the freedom to picket another's funeral but were afraid to allow their own to be picketed. What should be expected from a group that selectively chooses its rules to play by, whether in the nation or scriptures?
Insanity and all, Phelps played a major role in the gay marriage debate. His actions were so egregious and anti-scriptural as to do the work of the enemy and benefit gay rights. The Guardian showed the love he could not, suggesting forgiveness for the most unforgiving and unloving man in generations to claim his hatred in the name of Jesus. The fact that this Christian value came from an atheist (as evidenced by the below quote) and not the one claiming the faith is sad.
My ultimate wish, however, is that there would be, for a few revelatory moments, an afterlife, one in which Fred Phelps sees that there is no god, no hell, no damnation for we abominations, nor for anyone – not even him.
Of course, why would there be an afterlife and no God? And why would anyone prefer there to be no divine power to hold the likes of Phelps accountable since that is obviously the writer's desire?
Because to many outside of the church, Christianity represents bigotry. People like Phelps drive away potential believers and damage evangelism, especially in liberal places like the Bay Area.
Jesus commanded Peter three times to feed His sheep at the end of John, not condemn them. He was called the Good Shepherd, one who would leave the fold to bring home the lost sheep rather than howl at it for leaving. Matthew 7 applies to the likes of Phelps, who may well have heard verses 22-23 when he sought to enter the pearly gates:
Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name...And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness! (NKJV)
In a world where politicians and pundits are becoming more extreme, the Westboro Baptist Church that Phelps founded went too far. It was bad enough to picket the funeral of Matthew Sheppard, a boy brutally killed for his sexuality. Extending it to soldier's funerals—many of whom may not support gay rights—was ludicrous.
If someone wants to cling to a narrow interpretation of scriptures written when language was more metaphoric, okay. Reasonable people do not ignore the scriptures on respecting government authority and those placing similar punishment on tattoos or wearing mixed-fabric clothing to homosexuality so they can pick the most violent law of the old covenant (also lifted by Christ) to follow.
One can choose to believe Sheppard was living in condemnation, but the action taken on him was one of hate. True Christians know that never represents God, nor does using Christ as a reason to heap sorrow upon the family of the victim like Westboro did.
The impact was to rally people to the other side. Hopefully, Phelps saw how many more areas of the country are now accepting gay marriage so he died seeing the effect of his hatred, even if he would never have been self-aware enough to acknowledge it was his methods that raised sympathy for the movement.
What matters now is that Christianity learn a lesson and establish a more welcoming, loving image. Permitting voices like his to be the most significant representations of the Lord has to stop.
When Phelps was protesting funerals and catching headlines, Christian groups were supporting narrow definitions of marriage that also ignore other "ungodly" marriages according to scripture. It is the very definition of discrimination to apply something selectively. To not require equal rights as citizens was bad enough, but to label attempts to acquire them a "gay agenda" like some sort of communist plot is offensive.
How else would the world see Christianity when denying a group of people equality is seen as the top priority? The year donations poured in from evangelicals, California passed a bill that takes away a parent's right to love their child and grandchild through an unwanted pregnancy rather than put the burden of a decision to terminate it on a child with a judgment center of the brain that is not yet fully developed.
That is not just some passage of Leviticus, it intersects with two of the 10 commandments. Both bills had similar pre-campaign polling but because Christians spent their money to defeat gay marriage and not abortion, they "won" that vote but allowed children to get abortions without parental consent.
Condemnation and extremism is bad for any movement, even God's. Phelps may have lost millions of souls to God's Kingdom, including his own son who believes his father is simply more open about his hatred than most Christians. The way to change that image is to project God's love.