According to news reports, the Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist in Kansas, contends that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq as vengeance from God for protecting a country that harbors gays. The church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination, is made up mostly of Phelps’ children, grandchildren and in-laws. He and his followers have been crisscrossing the country to demonstrate at the funerals of American soldiers who have died in Iraq. At the funeral, they wave signs at the morners and yell at them that “God hates fags” and “God hates you.”

This is the same group that also visits the funerals of gay people, most famously at that of Matthew Shepherd, where they wave signs with the deceased’s name and the message that the deceased is now burning in Hell.

Apparently, from accounts I’ve read, this church has successfully sued some municipalities for infringing on their civil rights or failing to protect them properly for their protests.

Nice people these are not.

I can think of many words to use in denouncing Fred Phelps and his followers. But I have to remind myself that Jesus died for them, and that despite their opinion to the contrary, God loves sinners, even sinners like them.

On the other hand, Jesus did not refrain from harsh condemnation of the self-righteous. So his words will work with these vile people:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of
hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:28-29)

I’d like to throw at them what Jesus threw at the self-righteous in his day just a few lines later, in verse 31. But he was God so he could be more certain about someone’s actual future destination.

And besides, repentence is always possible. And I also remind myself over and over: salvation is by grace, not by works. Being an asshole does not negate the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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