Thinking Out Loud

March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps Passing: A Different Kind of Sorrow

fred-phelpsI’m writing this at 11:30 PM on Thursday night. Some major media outlets have noted the passing of Rev. Fred Phelps for almost twelve hours now, but coverage on Christian media has been spotty. Odd that the person who loved publicity and loved to play the media should pass in relative obscurity.

There have been a few smirks, but not everyone is gleeful. Phelps was despised and really still is despised. A comment at CNN’s religion blog reads, “To paraphrase a famous actress, ‘My mother said to only say nice things about the dead. He’s dead. How nice.’” A little cruel, a whole lot dry, but not exactly celebratory. As I write this, comments there have surpassed 17,000; I’m not sure what the number will be when you read this in the morning.  Similarly droll on Twitter: “Westboro Baptists flying the God Hates flag at half-mast today” (@plyrene).

The mainstream Christian community is mostly shrugging its shoulders. What to say? The question of how to respond is the theme of the few Christian blogs on the two Alltop blog aggregators (Alltop Church and Alltop Christian) that had mentioned Phelps’ passing.

At Christianity Today, Ed Stezer asks How Should We Respond?

…But, today, Fred Phelps learned that “because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God… The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

At Relevant Magazine Brandon Peach writes,

Temptation to dance on the grave of the godfather of grave-dancers is certain to crop up. However, as a church, we can choose to respond differently to the death of one who caused irreparable emotional and spiritual damage: with mercy, compassion and even pity.

Veteran religion journalist Cathy Lyn Grossman writes at Religion News Service,

The message he spread across the country never took root, and in fact helped galvanize the gay rights movement and put other Christians on the defensive. The image of Christianity he painted was a hateful, judgmental collection of rabble-rousers — an image that, paradoxically, did more to help his targets than it advanced his message.

Experts say Phelps’ ultimate legal and social impact on the American religious landscape will be a footnote. Religious leaders lament the damage they say he did to Christians who preach God’s love and mercy.

Counter response from several years ago

Counter response at Crosspoint Church in Nashville when WBC visited their church, Summer 2012

Jessica Ravitz, in a follow up piece at CNN’s Belief Blog also asks, Should We Celebrate Fred Phelps’ Death?  This is the first of three responses they published:

We reached out to several advocates for those who may have taken Phelps’ message most personally – Christians who are also gay – to see what they thought.

“The words and actions of Fred Phelps have hurt countless people. As a Christian, I’m angry about that, and I’m angry about how he tarnished the reputation of the faith I love so much,” Justin Lee, executive director of The Gay Christian Network, said in an e-mail message.

“But as a Christian, I also believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it,” he said. “I pray for his soul and his family just as I pray for those he harmed. It’s easy for me to love someone who treats me kindly. It’s hard for me to love Fred Phelps. To me, that’s the whole point of grace.”

The Christian Post came the closest among Christian websites to offer a more standard obituary, noting some of Phelps’ earlier days:

Outside of his work at Westboro, Phelps also earned a law degree at Washburn University in 1964.

Before being barred from the practice for being overly abusive to witnesses, Phelps worked as a civil rights attorney until 1979, where he once claimed that he had “systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town [Topeka, Kansas].”

Phelps was closely tied with Kansas’ Democratic Party, helping Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. He also was invited to and attended both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations, though the second time, he showed up as a protester.

A few days ago before his death, son Nate Phelps, who left the movement, wrote these words on his Facebook page:

I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

Nate, believe me, we share your sadness and sorrow.

Nothing to celebrate here.

February 11, 2013

Westboro: Two Phelps Family Members Flee

Megan Phelps-RoperTwo members of Fred Phelps’ family have exited Westboro Baptist Church including one who was considered an heir apparent to give greater leadership to the clan in the future.  Megan Phelps-Roper and her younger sister Grace have posted their news online and Megan has given several media interviews.

The Toronto Star reported last week:

“We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes,” wrote Megan Phelps-Roper. “What we can do is try to find a better way to live from here on. That’s our focus.”

The Westboro Baptist Church was started in 1955 by Fred Phelps, Grace and Megan’s grandfather, exclusively for the Phelps family. The parish has been lambasted for protesting the funerals of American soliders, whom they claim died because of America’s acceptance of homosexuality.

The family gained notoriety after a 2007 BBC documentary by Louis Theroux, The Most Hated Family in America, was broadcast. Since then, they’ve gone on to protest at Michael Jackson’s funeral, gay pride parades and other churches. A White House online petition to have the church declared a hate group has garnered more than 330,000 signatures.

Megan Phelps-Roper, 27, was an active voice in the church; she spearheaded the church’s social media presence and was often the brain behind the controversial protests, including one in Newtown, Conn., after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

“She was the visible presence for the younger generation at that church, she was a leader,” said Nate Phelps, Megan’s uncle…

…“The rapid percentage of young people leaving has left this fragmented group,” Phelps told the Star, saying that the [church] has shrunk from 100 members to about 50. “Eventually this will die off. It can’t survive.”

continue reading here

In her online post, Megan Phelps-Roper demonstrates a very balanced perspective on her situation:

In a city in a state in the center of a country lives a group of people who believe they are the center of the universe; they know Right and Wrong, and they are Right. They work hard and go to school and get married and have kids who they take to church and teach that continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make. As parents, they are attentive and engaged, and the children learn their lessons well.

This is my framework.

Until very recently, this is what I lived, breathed, studied, believed, preached – loudly, daily, and for nearly 27 years.

I never thought it would change. I never wanted it to.

Then suddenly: it did.

And I left.

Where do you go from there?

I don’t know, exactly. My sister Grace is with me, though. We’re trying to figure it out together.

continue reading here

The Christian Research Network points out a danger inherent in coming out from a group such as Westboro:

Here lies the tragedy of Megan’s story. In escaping a false, legalistic expression of Christianity, Megan Phelps-Roper finds herself without the saving truth of the gospel. Here it sounds as if she rapidly is wandering into a softer version of the common, yet damning, gospel of good works and a “right life.” And just as Westboro Baptist removed Jesus Christ from their message, so too is Megan Phelps-Roper, now separated from WBC, in danger of proclaiming a gentler message that is just as erroneous if it does not proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

continue reading here

In the view of Westboro, the sisters are now consigned to the same fate as those they regularly picket, they are going to hell. The Kansas City Star reported:

Steve Drain, a spokesman for the church, said in an interview Wednesday that the sisters had rejected the Lord.

“We can’t control whether or not somebody decides, when they grow up, that they don’t want to be here,” Drain said. “Those two girls were kind of straddling the idea that they wanted to be of the world but that they would also miss their family, the only thing they ever knew. If they continue with the position that they have, those two girls, yeah, they’re going to hell.”

Megan and Grace are among 11 children of Brent and Shirley Roper, who is the daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps.

continue reading here

In an article subtitle, Salon asks, “[W]here do kids raised in hate go now?” The article continues:

And now … two members of the Phelps clan have shown that old Phelps’ revolting influence may not persist into a new generation…

…It’s almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to be that deeply steeped in a culture that almost anyone on the outside looking in would understand to be reprehensible. How strange and confusing it must be to grow up loving and depending upon people who would stand outside a dead soldier’s funeral screaming…

…Megan says, “The environment we grew up in was very ‘us vs. them.’ It’s been nice to see that the ‘them’ have been overwhelmingly kind — as we’d kind of hoped and suspected.” Welcome to the other side of the picket line, Megan. Welcome home.

continue reading here

Indeed, welcome home.

Related article at Thinking Out Loud: The Westboro Children (story of Lauren Drain)

March 14, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Some weeks the link list is more a collection of bizarre news stories and other weeks it’s more a collection of solid items promoting deeper Christian thought and growth. This week is one of the latter; more than dozen excellent pieces which all could have landed here as their own blog post and discussion. Get a coffee and come back to the computer for a longer stay.

  • Because the wearing of crosses isn’t a requirement of the Christian faith, the European Court of Human Rights will be asked to rule that no Christian has a religious right to do so. It’s that position versus two British women who want to argue for the right in a case with wide ranging consequences.
  • Not related, but this week I happened on a January blog post by John Voelz explaining why his church forgoes having a cross in exchange for a variety of other Christian symbols.
  • Ed Young cites Willie George Ministries’ article 18 Lessons in 20 Years. A must read for pastors, executive pastors and church board members.
  • Relevant Magazine reports that the sexual revolution is hitting singles in the church just as hard as those outside the faith circle. Whatever happened to True Love Waits?
  • Also at Relevant, Jim Henderson shares an excerpt from his new book, Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? The chapter asserts that women are the church’s most wasted resource.
  • Michael Lawrence revisits the issue of “belonging before believing” that is popular today in many faith communities. He says the concept is just creating confusion on both sides of the equation.
  • How well do you know that person who sat next to you last Sunday? Russell D. Moore says that “imposters love the church.” This begs the question, “But why, when there is so much opportunity for debauchery out there in the world around us, do such people choose the church?” Sample answer: “..I think it’s because deception can look a lot like discipleship…”  Take some time working through this one.
  • At Church Central Leadership Community, Mitch Todd challenges the whole notion of creating comfortable environments for those who attend. He suggests that it simply isn’t working, and you would do better to hold your next worship service in a sewer. Well, he almost says that.
  • A well known sect that began alongside the Jesus Movement of the ’70s is slowly moving from a cultic to more orthodox profile. Canadian cult-watcher James Beverley reports on the Children of God.
  • In a major in-depth piece, CNN’s Belief Blog reports on the Mormon crackdown on proxy baptisms, the practice wherein a young person is baptized in place of a deceased person. Certainly, they want to stop the attention currently being drawn to this peculiar rite in the wake of media reports of proxy immersions on behalf of confirmed Jews.
  • Cate MacDonald writes at World Magazine that Bear Grylls and Justin Bieber both say they are Christians but don’t go to church: “The contemporary aversion to church membership is a common response to secular criticisms, but these high-profile Christians might be doing more harm than good. …America’s youth need examples of people who live vibrant Christian lives in the public eye, and encourage them to do the same.”
  • Henry M. Imler hauls out a 2007 study on how heading off to college affects a student’s faith. If you’ve got kids heading off this fall — or there already — this is a must read.
  • Rev. Bob Larson, where have you been? Well, he turns up on Anderson Cooper last week with three teenage girls in tow, who have been trained by Larson to perform exorcisms by the thousands. But Cooper thinks their answers are far too rehearsed, and it’s hard not to agree with him.
  • Two vastly different links from author Karen Spears Zacharias. The first, rather mundane, finds her and husband Tim cleaning up after Wal-Mart
  • …The second one — a book excerpt — is much more sobering. Karen visits a family where a young single mother, now wheelchair-bound, returns to her son and parents after eight months of therapy following being struck by train. Her father sees it all as an answer to prayer. You’ll need to read this twice, and with a box of tissue. You’ll also think of someone to forward this to, I’m sure.
  • Can you stand one more article about ABC-TV’s GCB? This one is worth checking. Are we upset about what the show says about us, or upset about what it says about God? Pastor Jeff has met all kinds of Christians, but says the people in the show are strangers to him.
  • Finally, on the lighter side, Tim Stafford has decided, in the interest of balance I’m sure, to list ten reasons why men should not be ordained. Yes, it says men.

A younger Robert H. Schuller preaches on the roof of the snack bar of the drive-in theater on the site that years later would house the Crystal Cathedral. This Orange County Register photo appeared marking the announcement last week of Schuller's resignation from ministry. Click the image to read the whole story at OC Register.

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