God Loves Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church

There are few areas in life where I would joyfully side with the likes of a Bill Maher, Rosie O’Donnell, or Nancy Pelosi. But because of a certain maligned group of tortured souls masquerading as the prophetic voice of God I share a healthy disdain with these progressives. I do not share any mild fascination my leftist friends may have in attributing this group as Christian, Baptist or a Church though. A landmark false advertisement suit may be in order, right after the courts go after “Christian Science” for not even vaguely representing Christianity or Science. Rather, I submit to you the graceless vitriolic propaganda group hilariously called “The Westboro Baptist Church” is neither Christian, Baptist or a Church.

If their virulently offensive website “Godhatesfags.com” wasn’t a clear enough clue, maybe their picket signs that broadcast “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” should be. Could one group galvanize liberals and conservatives against them in a more unified and total fashion? It should be apparent that the “church” is really just the misguided extended family of “pastor” Fred Phelps, living a communal cultish lifestyle that propagates itself through the brainwashing of children.

My gripe though is not with the shockingly ungodly tactics of the group, but rather the theological nature of the group’s message. Much more can be said about the Fred Phelps propaganda machine, but the grand way in which it misses the core gospel message is enough in itself to deny it entry in the “church universal.”

Here is indictment numero uno on the WBC message: An ignorance of the purpose of the Law. The Law is the holy requirements and commandments of God and the deserving punishment from God for failure to keep those commandments. The Law threatens, exhorts, commands and warns of God’s judgment on unrighteousness. Yet it was never meant to grant righteousness in and of itself (James 2:19). The Law highlights what we cannot do, namely to live a perfect life of obedience before a perfect God. The purpose of the Law is to show the sinner how manifestly sinful he is before God, and how there is no hope to save himself (Romans 3:20). The Law condemns everyone, including the preacher preaching it (Romans 3:23). Homosexuality is not the only scourge on society. The whole host of unrepentant heterosexual sins will accumulate God’s wrath, as will religious pride (ahem WBC!).

WBC’s message is not just offensive because of its abrasive verbosity within ridiculous contexts (funerals?!). The WBC is browbeating people with a half truth that will save no one and only add to the yoke of their guilty conscience. When the WBC cherry picks a verse (as it does with Leviticus 20:23) it is almost always one intimating the Law: that God will judge sin and will pour His wrath out on the unrepentant sinner. But thank goodness, the Law is not the ultimate end of the biblical message regarding sin, though the Jones tribe acts as if it is. Fred Phelps gospel is the anti-gospel of the first century Pharisees and Judaizers of Jesus’ day, a gospel that stresses only what a person can do to be saved (the Law) and not what God has done to save them (the Gospel). To tell a person to “flee” from the wrath to come is of no value if they have no clear understanding what, or whom, they are fleeing to. 

The preaching of the Law alone will make a person twice the son of hell if there is no true gospel grasped (Matthew 23:15). Instead, the Law and Gospel were meant to go hand in hand in all biblical preaching. 

The bad news of the Law makes way for the gloriously good news of the Gospel:

“My friends, I want you to remember the message that I preached and that you believed and trusted. You will be saved by this message, if you hold firmly to it. But if you don’t, your faith was all for nothing. I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The ultimate measuring stick of a gospel message is how clearly it uplifts the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ is the only cure for the disease of sin and the wrath of God (Acts 4:12). As Martin Luther stated, “The Law kills so the Gospel can come and resurrect us.”

When one sees their utter helplessness to lift one finger towards earning salvation, they then turn with all their might to the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ who alone takes away their sins (John 1:29). The radical measures God takes by sacrificing his own Son sheds light on the radical grip sin has on our lives. Phelps and WBC makes much of God’s wrath and little of Christ’s wrath absorbing sacrifice. As a result, they preach a gospel of sadism, but not biblical Christianity.

Yes, some modern preacher’s have neglected the biblical reality of God’s wrath in Scriptures. But we are not being faithful to the text by swinging the pendulum the other way and completely ignoring the biblical reality of God’s love. No, these two attributes of God reveal two sides of the same coin.

God’s wrath for sin cannot be separated from God’s love for sinners (John 3:16, 1 John 4:16). What God has joined together let no man separate: “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and gave His Son to be a wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 

Those who claim Christ will be marked by this same sacrificial humble love (John 15:13). They will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And they will use their speaking gifts for the sake of love so as not to be a merely annoying clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). The Holy Spirit will birth in that person fruits that include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…gentleness” (Galatians 5:22-23) and maybe mostly, humility (Phill 2:1-5).

Those are the marks of a true Christian preaching the true biblical gospel. 

So instead of broadcasting a drive by pot shot that would include a “God Hates the WBC” moniker and rousing hate speech to match, I would say this:

God loves the Westboro Baptist Church. God loves Fred Phelps and his extended family. If any of you are reading: God, in His infinite mercy, gave you His Son as a perfect all-sufficient sacrifice for your sin, so that you would not have to live under the crushing weight of the Law you preach so passionately (and wrongly).

Flee from the wrath to come, yes. But flee to the God Who is Love. Even you, Fred.  

“Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love” (1 John 4:8)

Bryan Daniels

A Small Public Apology (Kind Of) To Joel Osteen

A slight commendation may be due for Joel Osteen. Seriously.

After being consistently pummeled by conservative evangelicals everywhere, Joel has recently assembled a few basic baby steps towards pastor cred.

Maybe a small, I did not say total, but small apology is due from us. In conservative Christendom, we (and when I say “we” I mean “I”) are quick to jump on anyone without the same exact precise theological and social convictions as us. Some of it is warranted: Joel does frequently proclaim the (un)gospel of self-esteem. He does usually replace sin and repentance with quaint stories and pop psychology. In the past, even on primetime television, he has been ambiguous about essential theological convictions (the Larry King interview comes to mind).

How can you not love that perfectly bleached smile?

But, with no fear of reprimand from heresy hunters, I attest here that Joel Osteen for once got it right…in an interview…on primetime television no less.

Here’s a brief transcript of Joel’s statement on a recent segment of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. When asked bluntly by Morgan about whether homosexuality was a sin this is what America’s pastor said:

“Yes, I’ve always believed, Piers, the Scripture shows that homosexuality it’s a sin,” he said. He added: “But you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible, too. I think sometimes the church — and I don’t mean this critically — but we focus on one issue or two issues, and there’s plenty of other ones. So, I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life. I mean, sin means to miss the mark.”

The reason for this brief kudos is not necessarily that Joel is talking somewhat frankly about the specific sinfulness of homosexuality, but rather that Osteen has added the word “sin” into his public vocab repertoire at all. Sin is not a word Osteen has been known to use liberally, or ever. 

As Albert Mohler points out in his article “The Osteen Moment”, just four years ago Joel was much more vague and timid in his response to the same exact “homosexual” question. Let’s hope this counts for theological progress in Osteen’s path towards biblical Orthodoxy. 

Now I know his response wasn’t exactly an epic Martin Luther-esque type stance before the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand! I can do no other! God help me…”

A passing mention of Romans 3:23 may have done some good here. And he waffled a bit when Morgan asked specifically about Elton John’s homosexuality. I admit, Joel didn’t exactly look comfortable doing it, and there wasn’t a clear presentation of the gospel by him (again, baby steps), but Osteen took a stand where we (I) would have expected him to drop to the fetal position with empty positive platitudes.

Instead of lambasting him, let’s point to the positive (in classic Osteen fashion): Joel Osteen just spoke the unforgivable in Hollywood values and committed blasphemy against the god of political correctness. Given his platform and following, he likely knew his position would accumulate a hailstorm of hatred from “tolerant” liberal ideologues everywhere. Joel Osteen said what the Bible says: Homosexuality is a “sin.” No more atrocious than the litany of heterosexual sins, but nonetheless a sin that Jesus Christ calls us out of (1 Cor 6 :9-11).

Let’s hope continued baby steps lead him in the right direction: towards a bold proclamation of the biblical gospel where Jesus is the only cure for the wrath of a holy God and the sins of wicked man.

We’re (I’m) rooting for you, Joel.

Bryan Daniels