The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Fred Phelps in the mirror

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist church in a lawsuit brought by the father of a dead US soldier. The church had picketed the son's funeral, so the father sued for emotional distress. However, the first amendment won out, since the content of the church's protest did not focus on the soldier or his family, but on national issues.

Fred Phelps, the pastor of the church, is a very interesting character. The most interesting thing right off the bat is that he was an attorney who earned his reputation as a successful civil rights advocate in the 1960s, earning accolades from groups like the NAACP for his representation of black clients. There are a lot more surprises about Phelps and his family. He's not the backwoods hick many imagine him to be.

As far as I can tell, the only thing which makes Phelps uniquely hated is the picketing of funerals. Everything else about him is not too far outside the mainstream. For example, do you know anyone who is a:

  • Lawyer?
  • Calvinist?
  • Democrat?

Then you know someone like Fred Phelps. His belief that homosexuality is a sin is in line with biblical teaching, as is the concept that God punishes nations for sin. And his talk of "flag-worshipping idolatry" sounds like it was lifted from Stanley Hauerwas. I don't think any of his theological or political views are unique per se.

Yes, many of us can catch a glimpse of Phelps in the mirror. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to contemplate how normal he is in many ways. What is rare is his bombastic rhetoric, self-righteousness, and lack of grace.

I was fascinated by what a member of the Phelps family told NPR about the rationale for their actions. She invoked Isaiah:

And [God] said, “Yes, go, and say to this people,

‘Listen carefully, but do not understand. Watch closely, but learn nothing.’

Harden the hearts of these people.
Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
and turn to me for healing.”

I would say that their misguided mission is working. Westboro Baptist church makes people hate Christianity.

Category: Christianity