The recent passing of Fred Phelps, the pastor of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kansas, might have been a time of delight and rejoicing on the part of those who were the targets of his considerable venom. Remarkably—and, perhaps, instructively—it appears that it was not.
While undoubtedly there are those in certain communities who will have been at least relieved by the news of Phelps’ death, media reports revealed a considerable amount of restraint and a remarkable amount of kindness being demonstrated by those against whom Phelps railed.
Phelps’ church “demonstrated” against the homosexual community in unusually spiteful ways. Westboro Baptist representatives protesting at various events would hold signs reading, “God Hates You”, “God is Your Enemy” and “You’re Going to Hell”, among others. Phelps’ church protested at the funerals of slain American soldiers, and even picketed the funerals of Former Vice-President Al Gore’s father, and the mother of Former President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Phelps as “a much-loathed figure at the fringe of the American religious scene.”
Yet following Fred Phelps’ death, one prominent homosexual leader was quoted by CNN.com as saying, “As a Christian, I also believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. I pray for [him] and his family just as I pray for those he harmed. It’s easy for me to love someone who treats me kindly. It’s hard for me to love Fred Phelps. To me, that’s the whole point of grace.”
Another mentioned that instead of celebrating the death of Phelps, he recognized that Fred Phelps had a family who loved him and would be sadly missed by many people. And that even though there were strong disagreements with Phelps on many levels, there would be no gloating or rejoicing over his death.
Some Christians can learn from this.
For various reasons, some Christians—who by definition must subscribe to Jesus’ teachings regarding manifesting love towards others—find it impossible to love homosexuals, or to demonstrate toward them even a modicum of tolerance or kindness. I suspect some of this has to do with the Internet age: it is easy to be hateful when you might be geographically removed from the object of your scorn, and the expression of your vitriol is conducted via a computer keyboard. But many Christians—and I recognize that ‘many’ certainly does not equal ‘all’—treat homosexuality with a special type of hatred, and homosexuals as the worst of sinners.
There is little wonder that many people are turned off by Christianity when they witness “Christians” treating others with hatred and scorn. One prominent British personality has stated publicly that he could never be a Christian because Christians are so brutally unkind to those with whom they disagree.
I’m certainly not advocating or excusing homosexuality. As I read the Bible I see homosexuality as being contrary to the will of God. But so is dishonesty. So is pride. So is lying. And so is being hateful. In expressing hate towards gays, many “Christians” are guilty of a sin towards which God cannot—and will not—turn a blind eye.
As hard as it may be, God calls Christians—commands Christians—to love everyone. And until we do, we are no better than those we criticize and condemn.