Here’s a quote from the Westboro Baptist Church blog:
“The world-wide media has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words.”
Unprecedented? No. Hypocritical? Phelps and the church developed a practice of protesting at funerals of fallen soldiers that was deliberately disrespectful and disruptive, precisely to draw media attention to themselves, and get free publicity for their message. The media is not hypocritical in reporting on it, but Westboro is most definitely hypocritical in criticizing the media. Vitriolic? In the mainstream media, it’s merely been reporting of fact. That may sound like vitriol, especially to Westboro members, but the facts are that this man and this church generated a lot of negative feelings.
There are some positive effects that Fred Phelps, and the Westboro Baptist Church, have had on the Christian community. A lot of Christians have searched the scriptures, not only with regard to their theological views, but with the actions they’ve taken, claiming a Biblical mandate. It is always a good thing when Christians study the Bible with the intention of clarifying their theological views or examining their own behavior. And while some have used what they found to judge Phelps and Westboro, others have determined that their own behavior will reflect Jesus, and their own beliefs will reflect the scripture.
Personally, I am in no position to judge where Fred Phelps will spend eternity. If, at some point in his life, he received the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, then he will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. His sin has been forgiven. Whether or not I think his actions reflected that he had this testimony in his life, it doesn’t really matter. I’m in the same position, and my eternal destiny depends on exactly the same thing. And really, when we are considering sin in our lives, when compared to God’s expectations and standard, what’s the difference between us? Now Fred would tell you that the difference could be that he was among those chosen from creation for predestination to salvation, and I might not be among those. I don’t believe it is a matter of predestination as much as it is a matter of free will and submission to God, and that everyone gets a chance in this life to repent, and receive God’s grace. If Fred did that, he’s in. If he believed what he preached, he’s going to be really surprised to see me there.
His family says that there will not be a funeral, because their church doesn’t worship the dead. I don’t know enough about the past history of their church to know whether that’s a statement consistent with their previous practices and beliefs, or whether it is a dodge to avoid having pickets and protesters gather for Fred’s funeral. It would certainly be tempting to exhibit the same kind of behavior at his funeral that he and his church members have exhibited at the funerals they’ve picketed. I can only imagine that the anger and frustration that many people feel toward Fred Phelps and his family and church because of their actions would generate thousands of hostile protesters at his funeral, ready to dance on his grave. But that would be the wrong thing to do.
It’s been reported that Fred was excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church prior to his death because he wanted the church to take a gentler approach, and because he supported one of his daughters in a power struggle. The church denies that. Even so, since most of the church is made up of his family, I believe the best way to handle this is to step away, and give this family and church the respect, and the peace, that they have denied to so many others in their grief, whether they are grieving or celebrating, or both.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV
For the families who were hurt by the protests at the funerals of their fallen children and loved ones, this is the path to healing from the hurt. Being vengeful only aggravates the wound. Extending grace, whether it is acknowledged, welcomed, received, or not, will bring genuine healing and peace that can only come from God, and no protest can prevent the receiving of God’s grace. That’s the kind of action that demonstrates God’s truth.