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Posts Tagged ‘Westboro Baptist Church’

So The War Between Church And State Begins With Fred Phelps

Posted by Job on November 1, 2007

I will forgo the usual routine of prefacing my comments with a discussion as to whether the behavior of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church was wrong; there are plenty of places where you can go find that. Instead, I will deal with this fact: since Westboro Baptist Church almost certainly does not have $10.9 million they will have to close. As such, this is the first time to my knowledge that the state is causing the doors of a church that has not been found to be in violation of any laws down. Rather, they received a $2.9 million judgment against them for invasion of privacy (despite the fact that the funeral was a public event in a public place) and an $8 million dollar judgment for causing emotional distress.

It is quite difficult to say what is worse. The $2.9 million invasion of privacy judgment that was a clear rejection of the actual facts of the case, the $8 million judgment for emotional distress caused by free speech in a public forum, or the stated aim of the plaintiffs “But Albert Snyder’s lawyer urged the jury to ensure the damages were high enough to stop the church campaigning” was granted. Keep in mind: the defendants were not found guilty of libel, slander, defamation, or trespassing. They incurred this verdict by making legal speech in a legal manner, and the sole purpose of this verdict was to prevent them from making legal speech in a legal manner again. Whatever you may think of Fred Phelps and his congregation, they are not the criminals here. The criminals are the jury that brought this verdict and the judge that failed to vacate it. If the state enforces this judgment, it will effectively nullify the First Amendment protections of free speech and freedom of religion and set a powerful precedent. As such, it is Fred Phelps’ church today but your church tomorrow.

Any church that preaches that homosexuality is a sin can be found guilty of causing emotional distress to homosexuals, and even facilitating the spread of AIDS. Any church that preaches against the genocide of abortion can be found guilty of inciting violence against the abortion mills and its employees, or even the mental anguish caused by the theoretical threat of increased violence. And any church that preaches against unjust government action can be labeled subversive.

Make no mistake, it is a perfect test case, so perfect that one would think that Phelps was some sort of a plant, though I sincerely doubt it to be the case. Phelps chose the funerals of the untimely dead, the most emotionally charged environment imaginable, as his forum. He went after homosexuality to enrage the left. He went after soldiers killed in combat to enrage the right. As a result, a law restricting such conduct was speedily passed without any opposition. The ACLU did not want to come down on the side of a homosexuality opponent, the ACLJ (owned by Pat Robertson) did not want to come down on the side of one who would grieve the families of dead soldiers. For both sides, protecting their own bases, their own constituencies, took priority over taking up an unpopular cause to defend rights from a government that hates righteousness. Such is almost certainly the reason why no prominent pastor, preacher, or theologian was able to muster a defense. When such people feel the heavy hand of the state pressing against their necks for the crime of offending Islam or Judaism by insisting that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, they will wish that they had not chosen the path of silent forbearance.

Finally, I wish to deal with part of Fred Phelp’s theology. He states that we are losing on the battlefield in Iraq because this nation promotes and celebrates homosexuality. Why not? First off, I realize that we are not Old Testament Israel. But the entire religious right movement is based on the fiction that we are, that we are a Christian nation founded by God to be the light among nations, the shining city on the hill. So let us adhere to their false theology in order to further convict the religious right sorts that were silent on this issue. Did not God punish Old Testament Israel, the elect nation that He founded, for their sins by not only allowing casualties and lost battles, but actually fighting for the enemy? Why should America be any different? Christian right, you cannot employ your false theology when it helps your fundraising campaigns and voter registration drives and then discard it when it is inconvenient because it offends the white evangelical Christian families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have to be consistent! The fact that you are not being consistent proves that you yourselves know that your theology is false, and that you are not serving Jesus Christ. Instead, you give people a theology that allows them to point the finger at someone else while basking in their own self – righteousness. No wonder it has been such a popular theology that translates to easily and effectively to political action for so long! But no, the true gospel of Jesus Christ that requires people to examine themselves first to see whether they be in the faith and then make tough stands and sacrifices for that faith, to suffer rejection and persecution as Jesus Christ did, has never been popular and it has never translated into anything that can be used for political power, financial gain, or anything else that is of this world.

Further, I wish to take issue with this notion that God for some reason has stopped judging people and their nation for wickedness. A lot of preachers, some that I respect highly and others that are vigorous apostates, make this claim. We heard a lot of this during Hurricane Katrina in response to the common claim – believed by many Katrina refugees themselves – that God destroyed that city for its wickedness. Oh so many theologians manifested with the notion “it cannot be true, for why would God destroy New Orleans and not San Francisco or Las Vegas?” This is not to say that Hurricane Katrina was an act of God. Instead, it is to say that you could hardly pick a worse possible argument for saying that it wasn’t! Who is man to question the ways of God, to suggest that He is arbitrary, unfair, and unrighteous unless He behaves according to man’s logic and values? Was that not the error of Job, who had to be reminded of God’s sovereignty and rebuked? If God chooses to judge one and spare another, is that not His prerogative? Is that not His grace? But far too many churches claim that we have earned grace by our own virtue, and as a result we have the right to sit and judge God. They have forgotten that we are all sinners, that we all deserve the lake of fire for our sins, but despite of that fact God will spare some that deserve destruction and give others the destruction that they deserve.

The clear evidence of this was Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you honestly believe that Sodom and Gomorrah was the only place that had homosexuality going on? Not to attach some level of significance to this one specific sin when the Bible says that all are equal, what about the idolatry, violence, greed, and oppression of the poor that was going on elsewhere? And let us not forget the – gasp! – gossiping and false judging! The truth is that the whole world deserved the very same punishment that Sodom and Gomorrah received because the whole world was as guilty of sin as Sodom and Gomorrah! The whole world deserved to be destroyed then because of sin, and the whole world deserves to be destroyed today. Instead of viewing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as punishment of the sin of homosexuality, we should look at it in terms of God’s GRACE because He spared everyone else! But oh no, we do not go there, because we are so convinced of our own virtue.

That is why all of those preachers said “Why not Las Vegas or San Francisco” instead of “WHY NOT MY CHURCH AND MY OWN HOUSE!” By using that argument, they are pretending in their self – righteousness that there is some sin in San Francisco or Las Vegas or in Sodom and Gomorrah that they are not guilty of in their person. But that is not what the Bible says. The Bible says that the man who says that he is without sin is a LIAR! So even if God theoretically did destroy New Orleans or cause the tsunami, He had just as much right to do that as He just as He has the right to destroy YOU!

Nay, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate a theological point. The same was true of His destruction of Egypt. Egypt was not the only proud oppressive nation on the face of the earth at the time, far from it! But God destroyed Egypt in order to demonstrate His power and to show them as a parable against wickedness and defying His Will, and openly said as much in scripture. But do not be deceived: the whole world deserved what Egypt received and far worse then, and deserves the same still now.

Almost as deadly is what I call “neo – deism.” Some preachers claim that God only worked such spectacular interventions in history to judge the wicked and raise up the righteous in the previous dispensation before Jesus Christ, but now that Christ has come and overcome the world, God is allowing history to play out until Christ returns. Pardon me, but where does it say that in the Bible? Where does it say that the Father is sitting on His Throne with Jesus Christ on His Right Hand doing nothing? That is speaking as if God has fallen asleep and has forsaken doing righteousness! Claiming that “history is just playing out” or “this world is dying and disintegrating due to sin” seems to me to be either a religion of naturalism or claiming that these events are mere chance: evolution perhaps? Excuse me … “intelligent design” to use the lingua franca of evangelical politics.

Or worse … maybe you are giving SATAN credit and the glory for these events? Take God out of it, and it is either naturalism, random chance, or Satan. As for me, I say that a sovereign God is still ruling on the throne and intimately involved in world events just as He always has been, for He is a God that never changes. I have confidence in trusting an unchanging God or my salvation. What about you?

So whatever doctrinal errors Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church exhibit with their actions, it appears that mainstream respectable Christianity has problems of its own! At least it can be said about Phelps and his congregation that they are willing to put themselves on the line for something. As if “submit to Babylon” was a popular message during Jeremiah’s day. You know what Jeremiah was accused of? Harming the morale of our troops and the country, and helping the enemy. Sounds familiar to the same charges made by the Bush administration and the religious right to certain folks, right? Again, I am not endorsing their doctrines or their actions. I am merely saying that their doctrines and actions are not as wayward as many Christians choose to believe.

Update: a reader has left an excellent comment doing what I specifically refrained from doing for my own purposes, which was to make the plain Biblical case that Westboro Baptist Church was incontrovertibly wrong. As a matter of fact, he did a better job than I could have! So please read his comment, which God provided through him in order to make the treatment of this matter complete. Also, another reader made a related point that Westboro Baptist fell for a government trap, which complements the other comment.

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Posted in Christian Persecution, Christian persecution America, christian right, Christianity, church state, Theodicy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments »

 
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