Fox News is reporting that the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, which gained notoriety from picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, will protest the U.S. memorial services for actor Heath Ledger who died on Tuesday. A spokesperson for Westboro said that their motivation for the protest was the role that Ledger played as a gay cowboy in the movie Brokeback Mountain. Ledger, himself, was not gay.
The website for Westboro uses the URL “godhatesfags.com”. The website indicates that they also operate other sites with URL’s such as godhatesamerica.com; godhatesmexico.com; godhatescanada.com; americaisdoomed.com; yourpastorisawhore.com; smellthebrimstone.com; priestsrapeboys.com; and one that seems to sum up the essence of this “ministry”, hatemongers.com !
Westoboro’s leader, Fred Phelps, styles himself and the “church,” nominally, as Baptist. But this is a hijacking of the term. While I am not a Baptist myself, I think I can say with some confidence that Baptists, regardless of their convention, stand for the doctrines of orthodox and historical Christianity, and not the apparent expression of some radical fundamentalism that seems to be the motivation of Phelps.
Orthodoxy demands that we first look to our own sinfulness before even considering the sins of others. So, while Phelps is quick to quote scripture in support of his positions, perhaps he has not recently read chapter 7 of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus teaches about specks and planks and hypocrisy. Furthermore, orthodoxy would seem to insist that we engage the world as helpful agents of God’s love through Jesus Christ, to encourage repentance from sins rather than acting as judge, jury and executioner. Only God can condemn. While many of the issues that Phelps rails against are legitimate matters of sin, his approach to dealing with them seems to transcend discernment and leap immediately to a condemning judgment.
According to Wikipedia (admittedly, a source of some questionable accuracy) Phelps church lists approximatley “71 confirmed members, 60 of whom are related to Phelps through blood or marriage or both.” Re-read that last part…related by blood, marriage or both? What have we got going on there? In any event, I don’t think it would be incorrect to call this a cult and perhaps a dangerous one at that. Dangerous at the very least to its members. Remember Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians? I don’t think you could completely discount the possibility that someday the news that Westboro makes, is something other than their next protest.
Phelps and his “church” are certainly not helpful to the cause of Christ.