Engaging CultureChristian Media

Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church: Is He One of Us?

As a Christian who has spent his career working in the media, I consider two areas incredibly high on my priority list:  good doctrine and perception.  When it comes to engaging our culture successfully with the message of the gospel, those two areas are critically significant.  In a nutshell, what you believe about God determines the God you believe in; and how we’re perceived is what opens the door to someone considering our message.  Certainly God can overcome any obstacles, and when it comes to grace, I have no doubt about its role in salvation.  But since I don’t control God’s grace, the two areas I can impact are believing the right things, and being the best witness I can before the world.

As a result, there are generally three types of people in the church today:
1)  Those who value good doctrine and are concerned about how we engage the culture.
2)  Those who may have the right intentions, but despite their best efforts, fail to put their best foot forward when it comes to their witness.
3) Those who fail miserably on both counts.

Which brings me to my point:  Reverend Fred Phelps and his “congregation” at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  I’ve never met Pastor Phelps, but I’ve had plenty of chances to see him in action.  You’ll recognize him from the crazy picket signs he and his congregation parade at funerals for American soldiers, with messages like “God Hates You,” God Hates Fags” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

I don’t know Fred Phelps’ heart, but it’s not difficult to get a pretty good idea of what he believes.  As a result, I put Fred and his followers into category #3 – those who fail miserably on both theology and witness.

While the Bible calls us to recognize sin, and even discipline those inside the church, we’re never called to be the “morality police” for the outside world.  In fact, Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 5:12 – “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.  Purge the evil person from among you.”  (ESV)

Simply put, we should be more concerned about raising the standard inside the church than condemning those who haven’t encountered the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

The bottom line?   It’s not my job to correct the world, but since Fred Phelps calls himself a believer, then it’s all of our jobs as the church to condemn his actions.   Protesting at the funeral of soldiers who have given their lives to protect us is bad enough, but as I write this, he’s vowing to protest at the funeral of  Christina Taylor Green, the 9 year old girl killed at the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona.

This is not a church, it’s a hate group, pure and simple.

If I had one message for the secular world, it would be that Fred Phelps and his kind are not one of us.  They are not Christians, and they are not part of the worldwide church of Jesus Christ.   This is a free country, and they can call themselves whatever they want, but if – as Jesus said – they will know us by our fruit – then we should do everything in our power to change the world’s perception that he cares anything about the gospel message.

Because by any Biblical standard you choose, it’s pretty clear that all he cares about is his own ego.

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  1. But what a pickle to say “he is not one of us.” Because then you would circle back to not being the morality police for the world. If we treat Phelps as a believer then discipline is in full order. But if we say he isn’t a beliver, then what to do?

  2. This guy is a pet peeve of mine. His attention-grabbing antics give folks the option to say ‘Christian’ but think ‘lunatic’. Is he really all that far removed from a Jim Jones or a David Koresh? I DO know that the God he makes signs about is radically different from the one I follow.

    1. If this is all true… and I tend to agree. We need to treat him like a non-believer. Which would mean love and turning the cheek, reaching out to him and not slamming him constantly — we only do that to our own…

      1. While I see what you are saying, and the point you prove, there is a difference in the case of a Non-Believer, and a person such as this, who actively promotes everything Christianity is against. It is because of this absurd view of Christianity that people are turned off to God. With that being said turning the other cheek is to passive for such an aggression. If God is love, than we show love by standing firm in that and showing the world we believe to love and not hate.

  3. I think Fred Phelps is a fraud and a manipulator who is merely taking advantage of the tax-exempt status of the church as he promotes his evil agenda. Since each and every Baptist church is completely autonomous and totally independent, he chose what would work to his advantage. I feel sorry for him, if he truly does consider himself to be representing God’s view, but I find it most unlikely that he really considers himself to be a Christian.

  4. Phil – a fantastic observation that is about as clear as it can be. This post really helped me focus even closer on the huge difference between WHO and HOW. Thanks!! Dan McGowan.

  5. Hmmmm ….. Am I of Paul, Am I of Apollos?No I follow Christ… so we should be wary of those ministers who seek to make a name for themselves at the expense of God’s Saving Grace via The Gospel such as the character who is the subject of the above blog

  6. Being a stickler for sound doctrine. Over the years I’m learning even more than ever that God’s word is His word for His people and not the lost. Recently I was correcting some one on one of the most mis quoted scriptures of all time. “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” They were gripping about Jerry Jones selling to many seats for the Super Bowl. The scripture in other translations, including direct translations, say it’s the root of all “sorts” or even “kinds” of evils. Not all evil, just some. It also contradicts the the basic forms of, lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
    While reading it, I read the entire scripture, which adds “many have fallen from the faith in persuit of it.” “Of the faith” is we believers, not the lost.

  7. I have debated some of the members of WBC. What they believe is called Calvinism (twisted and distorted a bit). The idea that salvation was per-determined by God before creation. Evangelism of those who were per-determined to receive salvation will happen no matter what your message is, they will know God loves them only and everyone else He created to display His righteous hatred and wrath. So they protest to basically rub it in to those who God hates that they will burn in Hell, but the per-elected will see a message of salvation in it somewhere. So in my debates they treated me as a person who is hated by God (I am a minister of a Christian church). I feel sorry that they are so deceived by hatred and false teaching. I pray for them and for those they turn away from God with there hatred.

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