Fred Phelps and the Nature of Evil


Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, died at 11:15pm on March 19, 2014.

It doesn't take a direct connection to a family who has lost a child in military service or to a person in the LGBTQ rainbow to be saddened and angered by the soul crushing labels, accusations, and epithets thrown at them by Westboro Baptist Church's protests. Concerts and public events of all sorts have seen Fred Phelps' distorted understanding of God plastered on signs held by whole families.

But now, the man whose church polarized the already clashing Christian and LGBTQ worlds, horrifically "protested" hundreds of American soldiers' funerals, and wreaked havoc on the name of Jesus at seemingly every opportunity, is dead.

Many are confused how to respond. Many have no qualms with expressing their great anger toward him, and rejoicing that Phelps can no longer affect them. Some are calling for grace and prayers that he repented.

Humanity in general, and Christians in particular, love to have some sort of "moral of the story" or inspirational message attached to every event. Usually, a positively-spun proof of the reality of judgment, grace, justice, mercy, or that "you should get saved now before you die too!" are preferable.

I have no such hopeful or inspiring response to give. But I do have a moral, it just isn't encouraging.

Fred Phelps hurt probably hundreds of thousands of people directly, and at least millions indirectly. Just the proliferation of photographs available online of the incendiary signs and picket lines show this. Westboro has presented no understanding of God's love, Jesus' humility, or the kindness Christians are called to. They have done only the opposite.

If you are angry and rejoicing at Phelps' death, or if you are hoping he repented, it doesn't change the incredible damage he did to people and God's kingdom. The moral? There is no way to excuse Phelps' actions, even if he had repented. His earthly actions were still incredibly hurtful, and those consequences will not go away. The Christian world will be dealing with his mess for decades, if not longer.

God can forgive him — even we can, with God's grace — but that doesn't make his actions any less evil.

Let's not confuse hope of salvation with moral goodness.

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TagsCurrent-Issues  | Sin-Evil

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Published 3-21-14