This is the last that you will hear from me for some time, I hope and pray, about the Westboro Baptist Church crew. Dear God in heaven, make it so. Nevertheless, my most recent Westboro post and the new Scripps Howard column on the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., provided the base for this week's Crossroads podcast. Click here to listen to it, or you can download it at the same link or over at iTunes. The emphasis, once again, is on the legal and theological issues behind the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of this truly radical independent congregation.
However, thinking back on this podcast chat, I realize that we didn't dig any deeper into one of the questions that people kept asking me in response to my Scripps column this week. People wanted to know what I THOUGHT about this bunch, on the emotional level, the spiritual level, a personal level.
How to respond? Well, much of what they have to say is outright heresy, from the point of view of orthodox Christian and Orthodox Christian theology. I could call it "smoke from the pit of hell" and that would be accurate. But that would also be accurate, in terms of describing my own sins.
So here is a serious answer. In an earlier Scripps Howard News Service column I tried to do a bit of reporting on a key plank in the Phelps doctrinal platform, which is why the church has such a harsh view both of gays and, well, Southern Baptists. Hang tight.
The words of the fifth Psalm are not for the faint of heart.
"Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness. ... The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity," warned the psalmist.
Obviously, says the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, this passage teaches that God hates the evil liberals who run the Southern Baptist Convention, along with legions of other Americans. Phelps also believes that God hates the pope and plenty of other religious leaders who are called "conservatives," "traditionalists" and even "fundamentalists" in public debates about faith, morality and culture.
And at the end of the column, there's more:
According to his reading of Psalm 5 and many other scripture passages, Phelps believes that God hates what he calls "kissy-pooh" sermons that refuse to proclaim that God never, ever forgives homosexuals and many other sinners.
The Westboro website once warned preachers who claim that God will forgive those who repent, no matter what: "You are going to Hell! Period! End of discussion! God's decree sending you to Hell is irreversible! Hypocrites!"
"That's Bible preaching," Phelps told Baptist Press, in a 2003 interview about his beliefs. "You tell [people] that God loves everybody? You're lying on God."
Has anyone ever seen this information in a mainstream NEWS report about the Westboro troops? It seems crucial, to me. They literally worship a God who does not love all repentant sinners. They shout "Repent!" but do not believe that all sinners can repent. That is, I believe, a big part of the Westboro story.