Phelps: a foxy fundamentalist

That Fred Phelps is a sexy, sexy man. I mean has got it going on. I’m not usually one for the older generation and I am actually straight and married (to a girl), but in other circumstances I could see myself making an exception for Pastor Fred of Westboro Baptist Church in the US of A.

Now why, you ask, would a respectable Baptist Times columnist like me say such a thing? Well, Pastor Fred’s church is the one that owns websites like (and I swear I’m not making this up): They are not very open to alternative lifestyles (or, judging by the documentary, Jewish people), and I thought perhaps if a handsome guy like me made advances towards the good pastor… Well, it was probably a silly idea.

But then, the documentary was broadcast on April Fool’s Day last week. In fact, as I checked out some of Westboro BC’s websites on Sunday morning to fore-arm myself against a possible anti-Christian Theroux stitch-up, part of me thought: this is a hoax. It has to be. I mean, who picket’s a dead soldier’s funeral because ‘he died fighting to protect a fag nation’? Who labels everyone from Princess Diana to Desmond Tutu and George Bush with the deeply offensive epiphet ‘fag’? And even if you can find those people morally lacking, who (and again I’m not kidding) says that Billy Graham is on his way straight to hell? Billy Graham!

Westboro BC’s websites are the same calibre of shocking and unlikely as other great hoaxes like the now legendary (the original bonsai kitten site has been retired but lives on here — though i must point out that not eveyone finds this hoax funny). And bear in mind I had also just read that Google was offering broadband via fibre-optic cables that you flush down your toilet (complete with a graphic of a technician in scuba-gear) and that members of violently anti-Christian heavy-metal band Slayer were forming a Gospel group. Plus, I saw many newspapers and sites juxtaposing calls for British sailors in Iran to be released after a few days next to reports of a man who has been released from Guantanemo after four years—who nobody shouted much for at all (this ironic hilarity turned out to be real news actually—go figure).

But, slap me sideways with a slab of something starting with ‘s’ if, at 9pm on BBC2 the documentary came on and apparently they’re real. And on the internet they were big news. One message-board comment ended: ‘the only trouble with Baptist is — they don’t hold them under long enough’. Charming. Site after site, bloggers and quick-on-the-draw journalists were all joining in the denunciations. And I had to agree. Preaching hate when you do little or nothing to tell people how they might be saved, when you fail to mention Jesus Christ or his atoning death on the cross does neither Christians nor heathens any good. Failing to show Christ’s love, even if you are (sort of) preaching part of his truth is not just sinful, it’s inefficient. Bad theology, Christianity without Grace, fundamentalism without the fun – are all bad ideas.

But before we slap ourselves on the back let’s remember that much of what the documentary focused on was not the reasons why but the fact that the cult believed that some people go to hell at all, that some lifestyles are sinful, that some truth is absolute. And that should make many orthodox Christians just a little nervous. Media reaction to Phelps should prompt us not just to examine our own theologies and approaches to those we consider sinful but to be aware that at the core of our beliefs, beneath all our politeness, are unpalatable truths and people may hate us one day too.


One Response

  1. Yes, unfortunately, they’re real! And protected by the first ammendment, too bad shallow unmarked graves are frowned upon so stringently in polite society!

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