Thinking Out Loud

May 10, 2018

Christian Spokespeople Who Are Jerks: When They Die, New Ones Replace Them

One podcast calls them “crazy uncles.” To others they are an embarrassment of the highest order.

Exactly 7 years ago, I wrote,

Christians everywhere: Meet your new spokesmen. These are, as far as the media and many of your un-churched or non-Christ-following friends are concerned, the people who represent everything you believe and stand for. Meet Harold Camping, Terry Jones and Fred Phelps…

…Notice anything?

The point that day had more to do with men in gray suits. Others would quickly want to add Pat Robertson or Jack Van Impe. Non-Reformers aren’t too impressed with John Piper, either.

But as each of these exits the world stage, as we all will do, it seems disappointing when new ones step up to replace them. Some don’t really fit the suit — and these are invariably males — but the effect is the same. Others are so young, but are already on a clear trajectory for crazy uncle status, like the one we’ll examine today. Others are so called “watchdogs” like the self-righteous, Pharisaical Chris Rosbrough. Others, like Ed Stetzer enjoy a measure of acceptability within a large denomination such that people miss how totally obnoxious and self-absorbed they truly are. Then there’s the religious snobbery of Johnson, Phillips and Turk, which, I assure you, is not a pop-rock band from the ’70s. Or the snarky, sarcastic, caustic, infantile attitudes of the guys on the Happy Rant Podcast. And then there’s the bullying tactics of J.D. Hall which some felt led to the suicide of a pastor’s 15-year-old son.

And how on earth do we compile such a list without considering Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

(At least Joel Osteen smiles. It is disarming and goes down better than anger. None of the people listed so far would be considered affable.)

But today is about Seth. I’m not even going to dignify him with a last name.

It all started when Beth Moore decided to post a letter to the male Christian leaders who have marginalized her over the years because of her gender. I’m not a huge fan of Ms. Moore and don’t get me started on her relationship to that Baptist cash cow known as LifeWay.

She does not however, deserve the behavior — the word crap comes to mind — she’s had to put up with over the years; nor did she deserve this response from the aforementioned Seth:

“Be silent…  I detest you… you are awful… Be Gone.”

I am not going to include a link here, but trust me, the above doesn’t tell you the whole story. I’d print more, but why should everyone reading this have high blood pressure? His seething hatred for Beth Moore was so 180-degrees absolutely removed from anything resembling the character of Jesus that ought to indwell all of us, that I would at this stage suspect his status as a follower of Christ.

…and that’s when it dawned on me.

Fred Phelps may be gone but his spirit of condemnation and judgement lives on in the life of people like Seth.

When the jerks die, new ones simply step up to replace them. This a tragedy on so many levels. Worse, Seth doesn’t see it. He is, in his mind right after all. He has no apologies to make, no comments to backtrack on, no blog posts to delete.

NIV.1 Cor.13.2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

What an absolute mess the Christian church finds itself in when someone can appoint themselves a rogue judge and jury and there’s no mechanism in the body of Christ that can shut them down and shut them up.

The danger of course is how we respond to Seth, though everything in me would want to respond to him as he responded to Beth Moore; something like, ‘Be silent…  I detest you… you are awful… Be Gone.’

Instead however, I offer this: Seth, repent. Repent of who you are, who is controlling you, and what you are becoming.



January 30, 2017

What are the Criteria for Calling Something a Cult?



Years ago, I recall hearing about or reading a book titled The Mark of a Cult. One factor I remember specifically was exclusivity. Recently I talked to someone who had a family member converting to a fringe sector which prohibits fellowshipping with outsiders; ie. Christians from other denominations. I gave him what was on that day my best advice, but as the days have passed I have grown more concerned about their exclusivity doctrine.

I went off in search of this factor in lists of “marks of a cult” or “signs you’re in a cult” and didn’t see it listed. However, the internet offers many rabbit trails and I thought you might like to see some of the lists. I never did find the book reference I was looking for either, but decided to compile all this material on one page so it could be helpful to many of you. The term cult is often used differently in the broader population than it is among Christians, so it’s good to define your context when discussing this topic.

These are excerpts from much longer articles.

At the website BBFOHIO:

There are four identifying marks that a person should avoid when joining himself or herself to a church (assembly, congregation, organization, etc.). We have them outlined with a simple acronym:


Authority other than Scripture.
Deviation from the Trinity doctrine of God.
Departure from the true Bible Doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Salvation by works and not by grace through faith alone.

From Questions We Wanted Answered (.pdf):

1. Supplementary Revelation
2. Spurious Leadership
3. Faulty Christology
4. Financial Pressure
5. Dubious Hope

The DVD The Marks of a Cult as reviewed by Tim Challies:

Add: Cults add to Scripture.
Subtract: Cults subtract from the person of Christ.
Multiply: Cults multiply the requirements of salvation.
Divide: Cults divide the loyalty of believers.

From the website Christian Courier:

1. Unquestioning commitment to a domineering leader
2. Dissent and discussion discouraged
3. Cult members lavish the leader in luxury
4. Polarization of members
5. Rebellion against other sources of authority
6. Alteration of personality

From the website (greatly edited):

1. Their leader/s may claim a special, exclusive ministry, revelation or
position of authority given by God.
2. They believe they are the only true church and take a critical stance
regarding the Christian church…
3. They use intimidation or psychological manipulation to keep members
loyal to their ranks…
4. Members will be expected to give substantial financial support to
the group…
5. There will be great emphasis on loyalty to the group and its
6. There will be total control over almost all aspects of the private
lives of members…
7. Bible-based cults may proclaim they have no clergy/laity
distinction and no paid ministry class…
8. Any dissent or questioning of the group’s teachings is discouraged.
Criticism in any form is seen as rebellion…
9. Members are required to demonstrate their loyalty to the group in
some way…
10. Attempts to leave or reveal embarrassing facts about the group may
be met with threats…

I thought it was interesting that this last point also contained:

Some may have taken oaths of loyalty that involve their lives or have signed a “covenant” and feel threatened by this.

That reminded me of some of the “survivor” and “spiritual abuse” websites I often read.

Finally, from Christian Arsenal:

1.  Does it attempt to attack or change the person, work or Deity of Christ?
2. Is salvation by a new unique non-scriptural method, works, or something other than faith in Jesus and His work on the cross?
3. Is membership with this group required for salvation?
4. Is the Doctrine of the Trinity compromised?
5. Does it attempt to change the teaching about the person, Deity, and/or work of the Holy Spirit?
6. Is the Holy Spirit credited with revealing things that are contrary to what He has already revealed in the Bible?
7. Is God being made to seem more like man?
8. Is man is being made to seem more like God?
9. Is someone or something being presented as an authority equal to or superior to the Bible?
10. Is the teaching or interpretation of one person or select group of people seen as the only acceptable material or guide by which you are to study the Bible?
11. Does it edify the Church and build up the body of Christ or does it seek to give glory to a person or organization?
12. Are claims and/or prophecies made that cannot be substantiated or that have failed to come about?
13. Are terms commonly used in “Christianity” redefined and given new “non-biblical” meanings?
14. Is the teaching or activity consistent with the New Testament?
15. Is this a matter of tradition, culture and emotions or is it Bible?
16. Does this group or teaching force interpretations of scripture passages that make the Bible contradict itself?
17. Does movement or group produce healthy well-balanced growing Disciples?
18. Is the teaching, movement or group focused on the entire message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or are they focused only on a few specific issues? (For example end time prophecy, deliverance ministry, healing campaigns, prosperity teachings etc.)

The graphic image used above is from (the article linked goes into greater detail than space allowed us 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)

April 2, 2011

To Our Muslim Friends: Everything You Need To Know About Terry Jones

  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Baptists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Pentecostals
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Charismatics
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Episcopalians
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Roman Catholics
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Quakers
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Methodists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Calvinists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Puritans
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Anglicans
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Free Methodists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Lutherans
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Anabaptists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Mennonites
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Wesleyans
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Presbyterians
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for non-denominational Christians
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Amish
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Greek Orthodox Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Shakers
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Christian & Missionary Alliance
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Salvation Army
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Mormons
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Brethren in Christ
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Evangelical Free Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Pentecostal Holiness Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Southern Baptist Convention
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Apostolic Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Christian Reformed Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Church of God in Christ
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Assemblies of God
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Reformed Church of America
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Calvary Chapel Movement
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Church of the Nazarene
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Harvest Bible Fellowship
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Seventh Day Adventists
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the United Pentecostal Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the United Methodist Church
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the United Church of Canada
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for the Willow Creek Association
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Sovereign Grace Ministries
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Samaritan’s Purse
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Wycliffe Bible Translators
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for World Vision
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Compassion International
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Youth With A Mission
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Campus Crusade for Christ
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Youth for Christ
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian broadcasters
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian bookstores
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian musicians
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian bloggers
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian schools
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for Christian universities
  • Terry Jones doesn’t speak for me.

Get the picture?

…And ditto Fred Phelps…Why do the smallest voices get the greatest media attention?

Create a free website or blog at