Friday, January 4, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Westboro Baptist Church

You're probably familiar with the small sect in Kansas led by Fred Phelps, Sr.  It's the same group that protests the funerals of U.S. soldiers and openly declares that God hates homosexuals, and tops it off with a not-so-lovely pejorative term which I won't mention.  My opinion is that this small group of individuals engage in their behavior for the attention it brings, and it alarms me that the responses to the Westboro Baptist church (WBC) have been mostly rhetorical, which plays right into their game.  Instead of focusing solely on the "God is love" (true, but context is always needed) type of responses typical of the church's critics, I think it would be most beneficial to stop them in their tracks by addressing the passages they selectively cite.

The church claims that the misfortune of a child is the result of God's curse on the parent and child.  I suppose the Westboro Baptist folks would have to say that Jacob, the recipient of God's eternal blessing, was also cursed, as evidenced by the rape of his daughter, Dinah (Gen. 34).  The further notion that God has cursed those whose lives are ended abruptly is negated by the martyrdom of the disciples and the Biblical motif that, "we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (Psalm 44:22).  Is the murder of the righteous Uriah (2 Sam. 11) evidence of his condemnation?  Hardly.  

Most telling of all is that we are told that "the righteous perish" (Isaiah 57:1).  The author of Ecclesiastes shares the experience of "the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness" (Eccl. 7:15).  Sometimes good people die at a young age.  That's the word of God speaking, and not what the Westboro people label as a lie.

The sect also cites Romans 9:13 in support of their claim that God hated Esau.  What's striking about this is that Paul is clearly citing the OT prophet, Malachi, who provides the context of this passage.  Let's first understand that Malachi begins by writing, "A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi" (emphasis added).  The nation of Israel is being addressed.  Continuing, he prophesies, "'I have loved you, says the Lord.' But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' 'Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?' declares the Lord. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals'" (Mal. 1:1-4).  The name of Esau is used to refer to the wicked acts of a nation, and not to Esau himself.  

Let's also not forget the many blessings bestowed to Esau personally, despite his sin (Gen. 36).  Moreover, the WBC seems to forget that the Semitic peoples (Israel included) often used hyperbole in their language.  For every passage the WBC cites in support of their claim that God hates people, there are about a hundred that make it clear that God loves them, but merely disapproves of their behavior.  After all, God does "not [will] for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9) and "I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" (Ezek. 18:32).  This is made explicit by the Apostle Paul: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8; emphasis added).  John adds that Jesus "is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

The folks who comprise the WBC are under the impression that the antagonism they've been met with is evidence that they're doing God's work.  They cite John 15:18-19, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."  The reasoning is demonstrably circular.  The WBC claims they are right because the world hates them, but would they accept the notion that the Nazis were right because the world hated them?  How many hated minority opinions are correct, despite the contradictions they pose one another?

It's been somewhat embarrassing for mainstream Christians, such as myself, to witness the lack of Biblical depth in most responses to the WBC.  Instead of giving the sect what they want by getting angry and shouting profanities at these "funeral picketers," the calm demeanor of the Bible-believing Christian should direct us toward showing the WBC why they're so terribly mistaken on exegetical grounds.

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