The Herald Bulletin

April 9, 2014

Jim Bailey: With friends like Fred Phelps, who needed enemies?


The Herald Bulletin

---- — In an ultimate bit of irony, gay rights advocates are paying tribute to the late Fred Phelps Sr. by crediting him for a major boost in public support.

Phelps, who died March 19, was pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., infamous for its high-profile picketing of everything from military funerals to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minn. For Christians who regard their religion as one of love, Phelps and his message of hate were the antithesis.

His most infamous message was one of animosity for gays and lesbians, as in the slogan his group thrust into prominence, “God hates fags.” He repeatedly blamed society’s ills on its tolerance for the “sin” of homosexuality and other nefarious activities. He condemned everyone from Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Bill Clinton to Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, Sonny Bono, Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mormons, atheists, Muslims, murdered college student Matthew Shepard, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ebert, Jews, Catholics, Australians, Swedes, the Irish and U.S. Soldiers killed in Iraq. Let’s see, did he leave anybody out?

His church organized protests of funerals, college graduations, critics of the church and the Minnesota highway bridge collapse, in the latter case charging that Minneapolis is the “land of the Sodomite damned.” They argued it was their sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger, although it usually came across that they exhibited enough vitriol for both of them.

Phelps, a disbarred lawyer and failed political candidate, described himself as an Old School Baptist who held to all of the Five Points of Calvinism, including the ideas that some people were ordained for salvation before birth and that Christ died only for the elect.

It is mystifying where in the Bible he found justification for the depths of these beliefs, in particular viewing the degree to which Jesus sought out those who were labeled sinners and repeatedly challenged the spiritual elite of the day. Jesus’ advice was always to love your enemies, to bless and don’t curse them.

With fellow travelers like Fred Phelps, Christians seeking to spread the gospel of love certainly didn’t need enemies to undermine their message among nonbelievers in search of a reason to reject it.

While it may appear that Phelps was deluded into regarding himself as one of the so-called elect, you probably would get an argument from most people. His followers (most of them family members) can only hope that when he met his Creator, the latter’s mercy and tolerance exceeded Phelps’ own.

One can imagine his first confrontation with God: “Welcome, enter into the place you have prepared for yourself. For I was hungry and you condemned me. I was naked and you consigned me to hell. I was burying my son and you picketed the funeral.”

And Phelps would answer …

Well, what possible answer could he have?

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.