Summary: We dip back into the well of grace, we drink the Living Water and the well is deep.
This past Wednesday night, a rather famous person in our country passed away. It would probably be better if I said infamous as he was the head of what the BBC called, “The Most Hated Family in America.” Late Wednesday night Fred Phelps, former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church passed away at the age of 84.
Few people in our country have lost sleep over the passing of Phelps. To say that he was almost universally disliked would be quite an understatement. Not only did his actions and the actions of his congregation spew a message of hatred, their actions left all sense of decency far distant in the rear-view mirror as they protested on numerous occasions with messages against homosexuality at the funerals of fallen soldiers and others as well as at other occasions that might gain the church, and I use that term very loosely, a few headlines. I never have quite figured out the connection between homosexuality and the funerals of fallen soldiers except perhaps for the shock value.
To be clear, I was never a fan of Phelps or his church. I found their actions to be both despicable and distasteful. On more than one occasion I preached about the message of hate spewing from his congregation as they celebrated their most famous quote, still the name of the church’s webpage, “God hates fags.” The basic context of my sermon on those occasions was, God, who the Bible says is love, does not hate anybody and to say otherwise is not only bad theology, it is bad Bible.
I would not have been surprised if the world would have ignored Phelps death and just moved on. The world does that pretty regularly. I remember thinking, following leading a funeral for a good friend, “Hey people, slow down a minute. Don’t you realize Bob is dead?” The truth was, the world didn’t really care Bob was dead because the world didn’t know Bob was dead. The world, for that matter didn’t even know Bob.
The world did know Fred Phelps but the world wasn’t better off by that knowledge. Knowing how most people felt, when I heard he had died, I figured people would say something to the effect of, “Good riddance,” and then go on.
I was somewhat surprised by the vile hatred that went out from so many people on social media, not only toward Phelps but also to members of his family that had been estranged from Phelps for years. I read comments like, “Burn in hell!” and that was one of the nicer comments. There was little in the way of condolences for members of the family, including Nathan Phelps, who was the most famous of the Phelps run-aways. He posted on line his father passed away and few made even surface attempts to offer comfort to a man who had just lost his father. Instead were those proclaiming that the largest protest ever be done at the funeral of Fred Phelps. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was a sentiment forgotten in favor of Do unto others as they have already done to you. That reading was both sad and at the same time shined a bright light on the state of the human condition.
The human condition, we want to stay angry. We don’t want reconciliation. We would prefer to hate. We don’t want to forgive. We refuse to believe there is any grace out there for people like the Fred Phelps of the world.
I wish I could say all this was by non-Christians but the truth is, when it comes to someone we love to hate, Christians are no different from the rest of the world. We may sing, “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” but that love will only go so far and is really reserved for just certain people.
We tend to believe there is a special place in hell for the despicable human beings of the world like Fred Phelps. The truth is, if that is the case for Fred Phelps, that same spot is reserved for you and me as well. Why you ask? Well, in truth, we like to weigh sin. We think some sins are worse than others because we, all too often, equate sin and crime. Stealing a 25 cent pack of bubble gum doesn’t equate to robbing a bank. Both might be criminal actions, crime, but taken to court they won’t get the same sentence.
We see sin the same way. We think, “Fred Phelps is out there throwing around hatred.” We think how terrible that is, and in that we are right. Yet we are so concerned about the splinter in Fred Phelps eye we ignore the log in our own. We forget about the lie we told our neighbor. We forget about that little piece of gossip we passed on after hearing it. We forget about the treatment we gave the store clerk or the waitress in the restaurant. None of those things are as bad as what Phelps said and did.