Fred Phelps has passed away. This pastor led his small but vocal congregation in Topeka, KS to undue notoriety and unfortunate influence. Their notoriety is undue because their work shouldn’t matter. They have influence because they have damaged the reputation of the church in North America in huge ways. It is hard to hear this news and not have a strong reaction.
I have no desire to speak ill of the dead or to pour out contempt or hatred on this church or this pastor. In fact I mourn at his death. I mourn for his passing and for his life. The dominant feeling that I have in regards to this congregation, their founder, and their place in our society is deep pain and sadness. I mourn each time the church fails to reflect the glory of God to the world. I am grieved when people who desire to be faithful to God exchange a call to love the world with a self imposed call to judge the world. I weep for the Church when the ignorant actions of a small group of us reflects so poorly on our work and on Christ. Today I grieve.
I grieve for Fred Phelps because, to my knowledge – which is none, he never understood his own misguided work in the name of Christ. I longed for him to publicly recant, repent, and be reborn into the work of the Kingdom. What a powerful message it would have been to the world for him to have abandoned his hatefulness and replaced it with the love of Christ. Nothing in this world is irredeemable. Westboro’s redemption would have shown this to the world in a powerful way.
So that is my prayer today. As I grieve what is and what has been, I look with hope towards what could be. I long for the voice of the church to be unified in proclaiming God’s love to the world through Christ. I pray for Westboro Baptist Church and those like it who are missing out on the blessing of the kingdom.
May we all serve the world with such grace and mercy that actions of hatred and judgment are readily dismissed by the world as clearly the work of someone other than the people of God.