reflections on fred phelps and the wbc

This morning I got a news notification on my phone that Fred Phelps the founder of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) died.  Like most people my age I remember seeing the people he sucked into his delusions, protesting military funerals and especially the funereal of the young gay man who was murdered horrifically in Texas.  Seeing WBC band of followers has branded my conscience deeply.  How can people who claim to follow Jesus be so unloving?

Photo Credit: Steve Hebert for The New York Times

Photo Credit: Steve Hebert for The New York Times

I get frustrated with the WBC because when you look at movies, TV shows and other media forums, you always see the crazy radical Christians.  Always willing to kill an abortion doctor or yell at someone for not believing the way that they do.  All of these writers have to show Christians in a recognizable way so they use the classic militant Westboro Baptist personality.  WBC and Fred Phelps have given material to countless writers working on TV or movie scripts.  It is frustrating to me that so few Christians are this way and we all get painted with the WBC personality in media.

I get frustrated because the WBC does not make following Jesus attractive.  I actually have a feeling of disgust when I think about what they do in Jesus’ name.  Countless people who have attended funerals that the WBC has picketed will always associate the church and possibly even Jesus with hate.   Any clear reading of the gospels shows that Jesus would be grieving at these losses, not protesting their life.

It is moments like this when I am reminded that we ought to be praying for the WBC folks.  These are people living under the most severe mind control imaginable.  Although they all are complicit in the actions of the church and therefore share a responsibility, I truly think that there are many who “know not what they do.” There are many that have been bread to be members of WBC.  Those who have fled from the church have told the stories of mind control and oppression.   All of the reports say Phelps was excommunicated from church he founded because he began to advocate more kindness to the members.   The monster he created truly devoured him.  Kindness is dangerous in the WBC system because with kindness, forgiveness is sure to follow.  When forgiveness rears its beautiful face, reconciliation is next to come.  Then, love.  I hope Phelps was on a good path when he died, who knows?  But it appears that the WBC was too afraid of losing its identity and going down the slippery slope of “kindness.”

I know that I cannot put feelings in you, but I can tell you mine.  I have a deep sense of pity for these people.  I really believe that they are so brainwashed that they cannot see the harm in what they are doing. I feel pity because I feel sorry for the children who are now adults advocating hate in Jesus’ name.  I feel pity, not mercy, not compassion; I feel pity for these people because pity allows me to, cut them some slack.  Jesus too pitied me.  My favorite author, Dallas Willard reminds us that pity makes you wince when you hear the word.  Pity cuts the ego down quite effectively.  In the Divine Conspiracy Dallas reminds us, When we give someone mercy it saves the ego and its egotism.” In other words when we use the word mercy we are allowing the ego to continue to thrive.  When we pity them, we help the work of reconciliation to happen, by both loving and cutting down the ego.

In this situation it is so tempting to bash Phelps and the WBC.  They have heaped up quite enough reasons for criticism.  Let us as a church call for the WBC to re-examine the gospel.  Let us call for the WBC to reconsider their positions.  Let us call for the WBC to repent and apologize and to begin reconciling with the communities they have done irreparable harm to.  Let us pray that they would be overcome with grief for their actions.  Lets us move toward embracing people that provoke hate so that them might truly see the love of Jesus.

It would be my hope that in the years to come when people see crazy Christians on TV or movies, that they wouldn’t have a frame of reference for it.  What would it say to the world if the Christian church came around the small cultish WBC and held up signs that say, “we pity you,”  “We will forgive you, ” or my favorite “Let’s hug it out?”


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