Luke 6:27-28, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
I was talking to a friend yesterday and he lamented the joy people are experiencing at the news that Fred Phelps is in hospice care and dying. I understand not liking what he stands for, or what he has done, but to hate the man and take joy in his death strikes me as much the same type of behavior in which he engaged. Mr. Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas. He is adamantly and vocally against homosexuality and organized protests at people’s funerals. He even proclaimed that the United States was being punished for allowing homosexuality and therefore picketed at the funerals of soldiers whether or not they were gay.
I don’t know anyone that believes it is proper to picket a funeral. To disrupt the funeral ceremony is an affront to common decency. Funerals are a time to pay respect and surround the grieving family with love and support. To mount a demonstration at that most vulnerable time is at the least insensitive and in my opinion downright mean. I disagree with Mr. Phelps on most of his statements. We do agree that Jesus is Lord…
I have never met Mr. Phelps or any of his church or family. I know of him only through the media, news, and a few interviews that I’ve seen. It seemed to me that much of what he was doing is what I refer to as “look at me” behavior. When I taught school many of the trouble-makers were simply engaged in behaviors that were designed to draw attention to themselves. I found that if I were to pay attention to them for positive behaviors the “look at me” behaviors subsided. People in the media know this and also know that Mr. Phelps controversial, loud, and misguided words and actions sold. They sold newspapers and television ads. If the media had stopped reporting on Westboro Baptist I believe they would have stopped as well.
That being said, the happiness of people regarding his forthcoming death is disturbing. One may not like his positions, statements, philosophy, or theology. One can hate his actions, deeds, and speeches. To go the extra step in celebrating his death is very much like Mr. Phelps’ actions. We are called to love even our enemies. We are called to pray for those who persecute us.
It is an interesting thing to try. If you get really angry with someone. So angry that you in fact feel hate toward them, pray. Then pray some more. As you earnestly pray for them some interesting things begin to happen. It is impossible to hold hate in your heart for someone you are earnestly praying for. I don’t mean praying that they go away or get hurt. I mean that we are praying that God blesses them just as we would like God to bless us. Several things begin to happen. Hearts begin to soften. Sometimes it is even the other person’s heart. Sometimes we see deeper into the situation and understand that they are coming from a different place. Sometimes we just learn to accept that we cannot change the other person. It is however exceedingly difficult to hate someone for whom you are praying.
My friend asked me what I thought of the people that will undoubtedly protest his funeral. I really hope that no one protests with a malignant heart. Mr. Phelps had a heart that hated an entire group of people. Why would anyone want to return his hate and have that hate live on through their own hearts? I told my friend that I would consider going to Mr. Phelps’ funeral with a two sided sign. On one side the sign would read, “God loves you.” The other side would say, “God forgives you.”
When I think of all the ways in which I fall short I am thankful for those two statements. I cannot fathom the depth of God’s love, nor can I understand why God loves us. It is clear however that God does love and care for us. I am reassured by the thought that with all Paul did to the early Church prior to his conversion he was forgiven and loved. If God can deal with that, maybe God can deal with my shortcomings too.
Just this pastor’s opinion, what’s yours?
Blessings in Christ,