Back in my Colorado journalism days, I attended a national conference that drew a wide variety of people who backed the ordination of women. As I walked around the campground scribbling notes (often with a sharp journalist named Douglas LeBlanc), I became aware of just how much diversity was present in that body of believers. Suffice it to say there were plenty of evangelical women there and ordained Pentecostal women as well, which is fitting since Pentecostal flocks have been ordaining women as evangelists, missionaries and pastors for decades -- long before liberal Protestants took that leap. As you would expect in the Rocky Mountain West, there were also plenty of women present from the left side of church aisles, including clergy from Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran (ELCA) and other similar churches.
Then again, there were evangelicals and charismatics from the Episcopal Church, too. It was a complex scene.
I quickly learned that while these women were united in their support for the ordination of women, they often had completely different reasons for this innovation. Also, there were larger issues -- moral and doctrinal -- that separated them, including issues linked to biblical authority, Christology and salvation. Some of the women had edited, slashed or redefined chunks of the Nicene Creed, while others had not.
But wait, I hear you saying out there in cyberspace, what in the heckfire does this have to do with the Rev. Fred Phelps and his infamous crew from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.?
You see, the editors at Baptist Press recently recirculated a report from 2003 that did something very interesting. It allowed Phelps -- whose small, completely independent Baptist congregation is dominated by members of his own family -- to answer some basic questions about what he believes and even why he believes it. This included allowing him to bash the Southern Baptist Convention, which he believes is a highly compromised, even liberal, denomination offering what he called a "kiss-pooh" theology of love.
In other words, what we have here is a truly radical figure who, on the surface, may seem to share some important beliefs with the giant SBC, America's second largest religious body after the Catholic Church. In many mainstream press reports, journalists often assume that Phelps is merely another conservative Baptist, leaving readers to assume that millions of other Baptist conservatives in America -- in a wide array of SBC and independent flocks -- hold similar beliefs.
In reality, Phelps and the SBC tend to disagree even when it appears that they agree, or they have radically different reasons for believing what they do believe. Like I said, as a journalist I have seen similar things happen on the religious left (take conferences on environmentalism, for example) as well as the right.
Needless to say, the Baptist Press report contains all kinds of things that are sure to tick off liberal Christians of all kinds. But there is much there to interest those who are willing, for journalistic reasons, to listen to the actual voice of Phelps and to hear him state some stunningly radical -- and for traditional Christians, heretical -- beliefs. There are quotes here worth using again, with proper attribution, of course, the next time Phelps and his crew come to a venue near your newsroom.
Check this out:
To say that his views are on the fringe of evangelical belief would be an understatement. He doesn't believe the sin of homosexuality is forgivable. Thus, he doesn't believe that homosexuals can be saved.
"No, I don't think that homosexuals can be saved," Phelps said. He pointed to Romans 1, where he says homosexuals have "been given up by God. ... It's the only sin that by definition the adherents are proud of. You've never heard of an adulterous pride parade. You've never heard of anybody boasting and bragging about their sin."
Interestingly, Phelps says that he'd "be glad if they all get saved," although he doesn't believe it's possible. Questioned about Christians who have come out of the homosexual lifestyle, Phelps said he has yet to see a solid example.
"I'm still waiting to see one," he said.
Then there's the death penalty for homosexuals. Phelps is for it -- although not by stoning. He once sent letters to every member of Congress -- as well as every United Nations leader -- telling them that capital punishment for homosexuals was the first step toward worldwide repentance.
"We [would] do it by lethal injection and other more humane so-called means," he said. "But however this or that state does it, every last state ought to make it a crime and assess the penalty for it at death."
Like I said, this will be hard reading for all kinds of people on the left and right. But It's good to see Phelps spell out his beliefs on the record. File this, if you have a strong stomach.