At the time of this writing, Fred Phelps is in a hospital due to what his Westboro Baptist Church calls “health problems,” though rumors are that he may be near death.
Some people are rejoicing in this. For my own part, let me clarify I don’t glory in anyone’s death, be it Osama bin Laden or Jim Henson. Fred Phelps’ family need our prayers – not only for the grief they will no doubt go through, but so that they will eventually repent of their warped teachings, and follow Christ and His true teachings.
I think there are two obvious things that need to be said:
First, Fred Phelps group was what amounted to a cult. They were centered around his teachings and beliefs, and centered their understanding of reality and the Bible around the thinking of Fred Phelps. It was not Christ speaking out of the mouths of those people at those protests, but Fred Phelps and the top leaders of the Westboro cult.
Second, there can be no doubt that Fred Phelps caused irrevocable damage for other Christians hoping to witness to homosexuals, and he set back the ability to witness to homosexuals and speak to even non-homosexuals on the matter by perhaps about ten years. Especially in the realm of social media, anyone who has some form of contention against same sex marriage or homosexuality is often compared to a Westboro crazy. Sometimes, even when the subject wasn’t homosexuality, anyone expressing strong religious beliefs was put on the same level as Fred Phelps and his ilk. They became the icon of any group – homophobic or not – that opposed same sex marriage and the sin of homosexuality. Some will contend here that those who appeal to the Westboro cult in the face of any opposition to homosexuality or same sex marriage are committing a straw man or genetic fallacy would, of course, be absolutely right – but there is no denying that Fred Phelps did much damage to those who would witness to their homosexual friends and acquaintances out of love rather than hatred.
If he is to pass away (and I do not write this post hoping he does so), Christians will need to ask themselves how they will gradually recover in the days following. We should pray that Westboro, as an organization, eventually dies off in the wake of less charismatic or firm leadership, and that it becomes simply an embarrassing memory in the issue’s history. We should likewise pray that God will open up possibilities for us to witness to those homosexuals struggling under their sin, and offer them hope in the light of the Gospel of Christ, and not the Gospel of Irrational Hatred.