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 it’s 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.