Thursday, June 10, 2010

Praying for Fred Phelps

One of the more difficult things that Jesus tells us we are to do is, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:43). I don't think this means that we pray for vengeance either, but that we pray for some sense of realization that we're all children of God and all have some investment in each other. It's not hard to love those who love us - at least not most of the time - but to love someone who hates you, WOW.

Love is a complicated thing - there are many different types of love, levels of it, so just how far do we have to go? For me personally, as a woman in love with another woman, Fred Phelps is pretty much as vociferous enemy as I get. This is the founder of Westboro Baptist Church who sets up websites and pickets colleges, churches, and military funerals in the name of decrying America's biggest sin in allowing homosexuality. Regardless of your feeling on homosexuality, what this man has been doing has been causing a lot of emotional reactions all across the country and the Supreme Court will be hearing the case about their military funeral protests. (Is it free speech or do states have the right to make their protests illegal? Can't wait to see how that turns out...) This man has picketed my seminary and my local church, so this isn't just something that I've heard about in the news. A local film student did a documentary on his church (it's available on Netflix and is called "Fall from Grace" - I recommend it) and when you hear him speak and you hear his children (who are adults and the next leaders of the church) you will be amazed at their conviction and their passion. On some level, I have to respect them for that. Many people don't know what they believe, let alone why they believe it or have a belief that's strong enough to share with anyone else.

So what do I do with this man and his family? How do I love him? Respecting him for his conviction isn't really love, and I'm not sure that calling him a human being, acknowledging his sacred worth (oh, what a spin on that term!) is quite enough either. I'm supposed to pray for him. What do I pray for? That he comes to a realization that his hatred is wrong? That he stop picketing military funerals? That he keeps living so his kids don't take over quite yet (since they're even more radical in their beliefs and practices)? Somehow none of that seems to be enough... I feel like I somehow have to get to a place where I can sincerely pray for him to be happy and find a sense of peace and know that he is loved by God. And then I have to realize that God DOES love him, as much as God loves me. And then I have to pray for myself, to be okay with that and not feel like it's unfair. What do you pray for?


Kory Wilcox said...

Hey Mandy- it was great to meet you at MOAC. Thanks for your Rain Barrel tips. I'm trying to get the ball rolling on that. Haven't found out anything from our ReStore yet, but I'm working on it. And I'm not stalking you by the way - I saw this post title come up in Andy Bryan's blog subscriptions and I was intrigued.

I have a hard time with Freddy myself. I have to remember that while Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies, he also spent some time shaming the "keepers of the law" in the "church" of his day who apparently failed to understand the heart of the law they purported to keep. Did he love them? I'm pretty sure he did! And yet he always seemed to call their bluff, force their hand.

Personally, I am delighted by the groups of people who have taken subversive action against WB protests by physically walling them out with a thick crowd of people. Instead of telling them they are not welcome, they are simply preventing them from coming in the first place. It's like Jesus asking questions to get out of sticky situations. There's nothing wrong with it, and it seems to be really effective.

Still, Fred Phelps is a child of God, loved by God, and I try my best to extend to him forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus whenever he comes up in my journey. But we have been taught to know the tree by its fruit, and I've learned that no measure of MY loving or forgiving a fig tree is going to make it bear olives in the end. So, while I continue to struggle with love and grace, like we all do, I am afforded some solace in the understanding that Freddy and I are two entirely different trees.

revhipchick said...

good questions...I pray that one day Fred and especially his children (i'm totally with you, they are far more frightening than he is)that they may come to know personally the transformative power of Christ. that's the best i can hope for any of us--what happens with that transformation, well that's up to God.

the thing that wigs me out is listening to some (just some) of the things his son says and know that i agree with him--even though we are usually on opposite ends of the spectrum (thank goodness!)

i'm thrilled to read your posts again!