Despite a $10.9-million jury award against him this week for picketing at a funeral of a soldier who died in Iraq, Pastor Fred Phelps and his church in Kansas will reportedly not be deterred from picketing military funerals with anti-gay slogans — claiming that deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are God’s punishment for homosexuality.
They hold up signs that say things like “God hates fags,” which Phelps says is a way to continue his struggle against what he and his followers say is an immoral lifestyle. Others say Phelps is practicing a “hateful ideology.”
What do you think? And what kind of message do you think Phelps’ actions sends to the faith community?
Shame on Pastor Phelps! It is completely disingenuous for him and his congregation to portray their rabid homophobia as religious dogma, and protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers is an utterly disgraceful act. The Bible I’m familiar with does not say anything about God hating anyone, nor does it demonize an individual for their moral shortcomings. It definitely does not put forth the preposterous idea that one man’s sins will cause the death of another.
The ridiculous, bigoted ideas espoused by Pastor Phelps make all people of faith look bad — and their bizarre stunts cheapen the tragic deaths of our nation’s finest and bravest. I call upon individuals of all spiritual persuasions to support the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country, our liberty and our cherished values.
Whether we feel the war in Iraq is just — and polls show that by now, most of us do not — is irrelevant to the unwavering support our armed forces deserve from those of us at home. And certainly the sacrifices made by our military must be respected and honored rather than used to advance some ideological agenda.
Over the past few years, America has become seriously splintered; the citizens of our great nation are finding it increasingly difficult to respect opinions other than their own. Instead of real dialogue, we often have shouting matches. I believe that religious leaders have a unique responsibility to try to heal this growing fissure. The only way that we can bring harmony back is by fostering an atmosphere of love and understanding. Spewing hate-filled rhetoric will get us nowhere, and is ultimately the real cause of our woes.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
Pastor Phelps does great damage to the gospel message of love. It would be interesting to get into his head to see the dragons that push him to these hateful demonstrations and slogans.
I guess he thinks this is Christian action, but he is not imitating Christ or his 12 apostles or the sacred writings that flowed from their teaching.
God loves all his creation and sees that it is very good.
He loves each of his children but not their sinful choices.
In every heresy there is some element of truth. It is true that homosexual activity is sinful, as is every deliberate sexual activity outside legitimate marriage.
You might make a case for “God’s punishment” in this life for man’s sinfulness in that God does allow man to use his free will even to offend God. Man can indeed choose to follow a suicidal way of life leading to his own self-destruction. However, God is very patient and continuously tries to bring him to repentance. He awaits the prodigal son with open arms ready to forgive.
In the Old Testament, the prophets claimed that God allowed Israel because of infidelity to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Some 50 years later, God used King Cyrus to return them to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Perhaps in the last century God used atheistic communism to bring us to our senses. Now in this century, is he using Islamic terrorism to give us another chance to come to our senses?
THE REV. GENE FRILOT
Incarnation Catholic Church
God does hate sinners (Psalm 5:5, New International Version). God also loves sinners — because that’s all there is.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
It’s God’s love that restrains judgment until we breathe our last. Until then, God’s forgiveness extends to redeem sinners. If homosexuality is a sin — and Scripture declares it is (1Corinthians 6:9-11), then these sinners are like any other, guilty and under the condemnation of God, and so are their supporters (Isaiah 5:20).
We officially pledge ourselves as “one nation under God,” but at every turn Americans hesitate in this affirmation, withdraw their allegiance and distance themselves from whatever supports God’s will as presented in the Bible. Does the Lord hate this? What do you think?
The flaw in Fred Phelps’, however, lies in his rationale and methodology. God could judge America for any number of sins, but why choose just this one? And why picket where soldiers, perhaps even fundamentalist Baptists like Phelps, are laid to rest for sacrificing on behalf of the nation in which God has placed them? Even countries that don’t tolerate sodomy have soldiers that die; what of them?
When Christ came he called sinners to repent, so they crucified Him. But he still taught His followers, saying, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Nobody’s singing “Hallelujah” on account of Phelps.
Jesus didn’t picket funerals of centurions serving the sinful Roman Empire; neither does He send us to grieve poor parents who’ve lost their boys. While evil must be marked, it mustn’t be at the expense of innocence, nor should it be missing God’s mercy. Above all, “God is love” (1John 4).
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Everything about this is so messed up, it’s hard to know where to start. But as God’s judgment begins with His household, let’s start with pastor Phelps’ messed-up message. God’s call to repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness is based on His love for us, not His hatred of us. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, New American Standard Bible). It was in love that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Preaching God’s love to sinners isn’t compromise, it’s showing them the only way out.
It’s messed up that people’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers are casualties of war in Iraq. And by people we mean Americans and Iraqis. Jesus wept and expressed heartfelt compassion at gravesides. So should we.
It’s messed up that people are so spiritually lost that they seek fulfillment in actions and lifestyles that only drive them farther away from God’s best for them in righteousness. Yes, homosexual practice is sin, but so are covetousness and pride and a host of other sins more tolerated in the church.
And speaking of messed up, I’m just glad that God doesn’t make me carry around a sign that catalogs and condemns my own sins.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
This is a no-brainer. The message Phelps and his gang is spewing is despicable and obscene. It shows absolutely no respect for the sanctity of life and therefore can’t possibly be considered coming from a “church.” And as we know, a religion based on fear can only motivate and attract people for all the wrong reasons.
Nevertheless, his message is protected by the Constitution, the same Constitution that allows us to preach and proclaim the truths we expound in the name of religion. We’ve seen this tested over and over.
I remember in the late 1970s when American Nazis tried to march through Skokie, Ill., primarily because of the large Jewish population and Holocaust survivors living there. It was the American Civil Liberties Union that went to bat for the Nazis. All in the name of this freedom, which continues to be used and abused by the U.S. population.
This last month, I personally felt the hate speech that was spewed out against the Armenians by challenges to the reality of genocide (in reference to H.R. 106). I heard the obscenities spoken against my faith, by the likes of Kathy Griffin in her infamous Emmy acceptance speech. These examples are completely in line with Phelps and his followers. As upset and disgusted as I get, I know the answer is not to ban this speech. This freedom is the foundation of our society, and that freedom is sacred.
It is sad and sickening that people abuse freedom. What the faith community must do in these instances is to focus on the greater ideals that we serve.
If we are convinced that goodness always triumphs over evil, we need to combat hatred, as difficult as it may be, with acts and words of love.
FATHER VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
In His Shoes Mission
Armenian Church Youth Ministries’ Center
This is a time for ministry to heal the world, not increase hatred, intolerance or prejudice. Pastor Phelps does have the constitutional right to express his opinions. That is exactly what his actions reflect, the opinions of one man. Thankfully, his actions have not resulted in anything more than upsetting families and a lawsuit.
I recently heard a minister say, “We are fishers of men, the only problem is that we want the fish that are already cleaned, descaled, gutted and ready for processing.”
As a minister, I am called to care for and provide spiritual inspiration and hope of salvation to all kinds of people, not only the good and faithful. I really believe we can learn from Pastor Phelps’ actions, that it is easier to condemn than to save. We should steel ourselves against this path.
Scientologists practice a precept from the common sense moral code, “The Way to Happiness,” written by L. Ron Hubbard. This precept is a positive version of the Golden Rule: “Try to treat others as you would want them to treat you.” Followed by, “In all times and in most places, mankind has looked up to and revered certain values. They are called the virtues. They have been attributed to wise men, holy men, saints and gods. They have made the difference between a barbarian and a cultured person, the difference between chaos and a decent society. It doesn’t absolutely require a heavenly mandate or a tedious search through the thick tomes of the philosophers to discover what ‘good’ is. A self-revelation can occur on the subject . . . . All right, one can work out for himself the human virtues just by recognizing how he himself would like to be treated. And from that, I think you will agree one has settled any confusion as to what ‘good conduct’ really is. It’s a far cry from sitting still with your hands in your lap and saying nothing. ‘Being good’ can be a very active and powerful activity.”
In meeting with Pastor Phelps, this is what I would share with him.
Glendale Church of Scientology
Pastor Phelps is practicing a “hateful ideology.”
While nobody understands why some people are gay and some people are straight, nobody has the right to bash anybody who is different, either. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37, any version of the New Testament) should have taught that concept to Pastor Phelps.
Why are some people born white and some people born black? Nobody knows, but the difference in our skin color — which nobody can help — doesn’t free us to beat up on those who are different from us. Could you help being born female? No, and I couldn’t help being born male. Some people will rush to Scripture to prove their own prejudice that homosexuality is wrong. Don’t do that! Don’t use Scripture to reinforce your own prejudice!
Scripture allowed the patriarchs to have more than one wife — does that mean you get to have more than one spouse? No. I like to think that we have evolved somewhat from what was commonplace 3,000 years ago. Again, please don’t use Holy Scripture to reinforce your own prejudice. When in doubt, be compassionate. That’s how Jesus was. Go and do likewise.
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
Congregational Church of the Lighted Window
United Church of Christ
La Cañada Flintridge