A couple of years ago the BBC aired a television documentary about Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist (the “God Hates Fags” church). The documentary, The Most Hated Family in America, follows the BBC’s Louis Thoreaux as he spends time in Topeka with the Phelps. I watched it for the first time yesterday, and experienced the most anger and disgust I’ve ever felt towards people who supposedly worship the same God of the same religion and Bible as I do. I was thinking that if these people are Christians and are going to be in heaven one day, I don’t know if I want to be there with them. It’s a HIGHLY disturbing and maddening film for anyone to watch, but perhaps especially frightful for anyone who cares about Christianity and hates to see it be expressed in such a thoroughly skewed, unbiblical, self-serving manner.
Some of the questions I asked myself after watching this: Why does God allow such crazy, fringe, ungodly people to be such a public face of the Christian church? Are these people actually Christians and is God using them in some purpose I don’t understand? If so, how can I blame anyone for not wanting to believe in this God? Is there any way we can shut down this church and silence the “God hates fags!” voice in a loving, nonviolent way? Why do the 30 people at Westboro Baptist get to do so much damage to the worldwide image of Christianity? What can the other billion of us Christians in the world do to counteract this?
I’ve been critical in recent years of the trend of Christians saying things like “I love Jesus but hate Christians” or “Lord, save us from your followers,” or similar variations on this “Christians are annoying but Jesus is cool” idea. But when there are people like the Phelps clan in Topeka who are masquerading as Christians and dragging that name in the filthiest kind of mud, I can’t help but understand why so many within the church are frantically trying to distance themselves from the designation.
Still, I think it’s wrong to get too worked up and worried by these sorts of people. That the Phelps—such a tiny anomaly of Christianity—could stir such a frustrated, stressed-out reaction in me ultimately indicates that I need to have a stronger faith. Not faith that I’m right and they’re wrong, but that God—above all earthly things—has a purpose and it will prevail, regardless of whatever stupid things people say or do in his name.
Christians today need to have confidence not in their own cultural dogmas or prophetic/martyrdom complexes (as in the Phelps’ insistence that God only smiles upon them and hates everyone else)—but rather confidence in Christ and his transforming, world-altering gospel. Contrary to what the Phelps might think, the Christian gospel is a hopeful message for the world and is about love rather than hate and grace rather than legalistic obsessing about the keeping of Mosaic laws.
Sure, there are unrepentant sinners. And yes, there is the wrath of God. But it’s God who will exact that wrath and doll out judgment as he sees fit. As Christians we should focus on thanking God, worshipping him and being imitators of Christ—which means loving and serving the world unconditionally and spreading a message of resurrection hope.
I don’t know what Bible Phelps reads or what God Westboro Baptist worships, but I’m not going to worry too much about it. They can call themselves Christians (even though they aren’t living Christianly) all they want; It won’t change the truth of who Christ actually was and what he actually said and did.