God Loves Fred Phelps.
So rumor has it that Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, is dying.
A man who has grieved the hearts of thousands, who gives Christians a bad name, who has raised up many more people to continue his work, is dying.
There are people rejoicing, people joking/seriously considering picketing his funeral, as he has done to many families. I confess that I am tempted to join them. I’m tempted to say “good riddance to bad rubbish!” But that doesn’t last very long, and here’s why:
Fred Phelps isn’t the last sinner to come out of Topeka, KS. A few decades ago, my parents became the proud parents of this screaming, collicky baby girl one June morning right there in that same town. This sinner who isn’t always as kind as she should be, who isn’t always the best Christian she could be, who is ordained to lead people. This sinner who is loved by God just as much as Fred Phelps is. This sinner who hopes that she is more right than Fred Phelps.
The other day, my sister retweeted Bob Goff: “God didn’t ask us to just love some people; probably so we didn’t spend our whole lives deciding who was on that list.” My initial reaction was “Yeah! I know a lot of people who have to hear that message! People who need to learn to love better!”
Oh, Cindy, you big dunce.
How quickly we eat our words sometimes. My favorite New Testament book is 1 John, but it also challenges me more than any other. Its theme is love, and it pulls no punches. You should read it (it’s short; I’ll wait while you go read it). I read it again and again as it dares – no, COMMANDS – that I love others. And not just the others I like. Everyone. Ev.Ry.One.
I have to love Fred Phelps. The man who opposes just about everything I am (a female, gay-loving, pro-choice, educated feminist minister).
Sometimes I wish God gave me a Get-out-of-love Card, as if life has a Community Chest deck from which to pull. That would make it easier. Then I could go about my evening swimming in schadenfreude. Then I could be smug about the heartache his family feels, much like the families whose funerals were picketed.
But God hasn’t given me a pass on loving anyone yet.
So instead, I spend my night doing what I shamefully admit I have never done before: I am praying for Fred Phelps. I am praying for his family. Because God loves sinners, and that includes everyone. Ev.Ry.One.
That includes Fred Phelps, the man who stands for just about everything I oppose (homophobia, patriarchy, anti-women bigotry).
In my humanity, I’d like to think that my sins are not as bad as his sins, or your sins, but my faith reminds me that sin is sin. I am no more deserving than anyone else – that’s what grace is about. I need forgiveness, Fred Phelps needs forgiveness. The same God loves us both and offers it to both of us at the same price. That’s a hard pill to swallow for my prideful self.
In desiring to get better at this whole Jesus-following thing, I am continually learning that I have to get better at this whole loving-others thing. Tonight, that means confessing that I have failed to pray for those who oppose me (at least with regards to Westboro Baptist Church, and probably countless others) and starting to pray for them now. I hope that you’re better at it than I am. If not, take another look at 1 John and see if you can’t find a little motivation to start praying with me.