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.

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June 23, 2010

Wednesday Link Link

Got a blog post that deserves more attention?   Use the contact page to submit the item you want the world to read.   We promise you at least three or four extra readers!!!

  • Blogger Dennis Muse notes the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Youth With a Mission, aka YWAM.  (Canada’s Brian Stiller once called YWAM, “The Evangelical Community’s best kept secret.”)
  • Cornerstone Television’s home page notes the loss of Ron Hembree.   Although I can’t get their signal, I paid tribute to their quality programming in this blog in March of 2008.
  • USAToday Religion notes the number of pastors in bi-vocational ministry adding fresh meaning to the phrase, “Keep your day job.”
  • A Christian bookstore in Helsinki holds an event where you can trade porn for Bibles.  (And the concept isn’t copyrighted!  You can do this, too.)
  • Justin Taylor gives me a chance to be introduced to the music of Trip Lee; I can enjoy hip-hop more when I can read the lyrics such as on Justin’s blog post and audio of this song, “The Invasion (Hero)“.
  • Jason Boyett reposts a proposal that the thing that’s really missing from your local Christian bookstore is Christian cosmetics.
  • The family that owns the chain of Hobby Lobby stores, according to the New York Times, wants to build a major Bible museum possibly in Dallas.
  • Encouraging Youth Dept.:  The blogger otherwise known as No Bull Noble, offers three apologetics videos on YouTube.
  • Tim Challies runs some analysis on the four available answer options to, “Why Does The Universe Look So Old?”
  • Part two of Matthew Warner’s “10 Types of Blog Comments” is about how to respond.  So once again, here’s part one, and here’s part two.  Which type of blog reader are you?
  • A 5-page CT special report looks at mission in light of technology, with an interview with Al Erisman.
  • Bonus link to Ethix: Business|Technology|Ethics – the online magazine (now in its 70th issue) which Erisman co-founded and edits.
  • New Blog of the Week:  As you know I admire transparency, and here is a blog proudly authored by someone dealing with clinical depression.  Check out ThePrayGround.
  • You’ll have to bookmark this one and return on Friday (25th) but this week’s Drew Marshall Show (19th) was quite a mix with folksinger Dan Hill, Fred Phelps estranged son Nate Phelps (discussed on this blog here and mentioned here) and Hoops for Hope’s teenage founder Austin Gutwein (discussed at my industry blog a few weeks ago.)  So once again you want this link starting mid-day Friday.  (Some people in other parts of the world get up at something like 3 AM Sunday to catch the live stream of the show at 1 PM EST Saturday in North America.)
  • How does a person convicted on child pornography charges, and not permitted to be anywhere there are children, exercise their right to go to church?  Apparently with some help from an unlikely source: the state’s Civil Liberties Union.
  • Macleans Magazine (Canada’s equivalent to Newsweek or Time) interviews Dr. Leonard Sax on the “empty world of teenage girls.”
  • Our cartoonist this week is fellow-Alltop-member Mark Anderson at andertoons.com.  He does a number of family-oriented items; here’s one that hopefully doesn’t take you too long…
  • Okay, Mark’s too good for just a single panel.   Here’s another one I really liked:

November 15, 2009

Reblogging 05/02/09: The Insanity of Fred Phelps

Filed under: issues, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm

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.

fred-phelps1

Funeral Protests

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.]

canadian fallsAdditional 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.


August 6, 2009

The Problem With Atheists: They Don’t Go To Our Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:49 am

I’ve written about Nate Phelps before.  The son of radical conservative Evangelical Fred Phelps has embraced atheism.   You can hardly blame him.   Every once in awhile I visit his blog.   I’ve tried to leave comments, but the thing glitches when I try to enter the word verification.   I was greatly puzzled recently by an entry where he reported that someone accused him of being anti-Calvinist.  Seriously!   Apparently, this is the problem with atheists, they’re anti-Calvinist.  Has it come to this?   Has militant Calvinism reached the point where atheists are attacked not on the basis of any rejection of God, Jesus, Creation, The Bible, The Cross, etc.; but because they have rejected predestination and limited atonement?   This is beyond redemption.    It’s like a Catholic telling an atheist that he or she is in error because he/she has rejected the Pope.   Or a Baptist telling an atheist that they are missing out because they haven’t been baptized by immersion.   Or a Pentecostal telling an atheist that their beliefs are wrong because they haven’t spoken in tongues.   Talk about mixed up priorities.

A is for Atheist and apparell
The picture features an advertisement for “Scarlet Letter A” t-shirts promoting atheism.  If you’re wondering where they got the idea to wear their beliefs on their clothing; you’re probably not too far wrong if you believe that Atheists borrowed the concept from Evangelicals.  How long before Atheists start buying television time for their own talk shows? What goes around…

When Atheism Becomes ReligionSuggested Reading:  Why I Am A Calminian by Craig Blomberg on Koinonia Blog
Book Recommendation:  When Atheism Becomes Religion by Chris Hedges (Free Press, 2009)

May 2, 2009

Fred Phelps: Driving the Hearts of People Away from God

fred-phelps1

Funeral Protests

Living one country removed, I am 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.

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.


Related Post – Albert Mohler’s blog – New Atheists Ready to Go Public

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