In the last six months, there has been sufficient traffic generated to this blog using Fred Phelps as the keyword search for me to know the public is fascinated by this man’s portrayal of a Christian minister. It is a mystery to me how the man who believes that the casualties of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 9/11 tragedy, etc. are God’s judgment against the United States has somehow managed to avoid having the wrath of God poured out upon himself.
It all came back to me yesterday when my son stumbled across this video where Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes interviewed Shirley Phelps Roper back in 2006. If ever atheists wanted to make the case that Christians are all mindless idiots, Shirley provides enough ammunition for their argument.
Anyway, here’s where my thoughts were at six months ago, in case you missed the original post.
Living one country removed, until recently, I have been only superficially aware of the name Fred Phelps. This man, his Westboro Baptist Church, and his crusade just isn’t the sort of thing that makes the evening newscasts here. But when fellow Alltop blogger Jake Bouma had a link to the website I’m about to direct you to, something about it intrigued me.
For those who don’t know, Phelps is a media-grabbing activist protester who preaches a gospel of hate, but does so in the name of Christianity, the faith named after the person who preached a gospel of love. His approximately 100-member church attracts an inordinate amount of media publicity for the picketing and protesting they do at a variety of religious and civic events.
The above-mentioned website is a paper presented by Nate Phelps, one of Fred’s sons, at — wait for it… — the American Atheists Convention. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise, should it? That being raised in the home of man who is considered an off-the-scale extremist by both Christians and non-Christians alike should cause his children to grow up anything close to ‘normal’ would be the greater surprise.
The paper takes the better part of a half hour to read, but you really should read this. It gives insight into the everyday life of one of America’s most famous religious extremists. And actually, at the end of the day, Nate does seems relatively ‘normal’ after all. At least now he does. I’m just sad that he has had to ditch everything he grew up with to get normal, but I hope he eventually finds his way to what would be — for him — the spiritual middle ground.
Here’s the direct link to Nate’s paper. Take the time to read this.
Personal to Nate: The internet being what it is, if it happens that you’re reading this, let me say on behalf of millions of Christians everywhere that I am so sorry that you had to grow up with this. I’m sorry that you missed out on a childhood and adolescence that could have been so much more beneficial.
I can’t agree with the philosophy you’re now embracing, but I can’t for one minute criticize the process that brought you there. The people you’re interacting with now and things you’re reading now must all seem like a breath of fresh air. I encourage you to continue reading and studying literature from a variety of faith perspectives. It’s too soon to say you’ve now got it all sorted.
Down the road, I hope you’ll admit that your Dad’s take on the Bible and Christ’s teachings wasn’t that different than the way the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus’ day often completely missed the point and misinterpreted the Law and Prophets. They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. And as a family, you paid a price for that error.
Despite that, as Christ followers we are compelled to love Fred; even if he himself has been less than charitable towards anyone else. And if we love Fred, we certainly love you. You have been hurt, wounded, broken; a true casualty of “religion.” But it is into our hurt, wounds and brokenness that I believe Christ longs to enter, to bring wholeness and healing.
November 2009 update: Here’s one that may be more difficult for you to wrap your brain around. What if, at the end of one of the Westboro Baptist protests at a gay/lesbian rally, a gay person went up to the Westboro people to try to better understand their whole perspective, and that person just happened to be better versed on the big picture of scripture than the Westboro people were? Well…that’s what you’ll find here at the blog Sinnerview, when you read A Conversation With The Lost. [HT: Comment left at Girl in A Glass House blog.]
Additional Update: I no sooner had this posted than we got into a discussion about it over dinner. It was then that I observed a fundamental difference between Canada, where the Phelps phenomonon would never happen, and the U.S.:
In the United States laws protecting freedom of religion trump any prohibitions against hate speech. In Canada laws forbidding hate speech trump any protection of freedom of religion.