I have too long been aware of the (so called) "reverend fred phelps" and his (so called) "westboro baptist church" in Kansas. The actions of this man and his family have made me, a life long Christian, embarrassed to claim the description, but I have to admit I had never once thought of him as contributing anything good to the country or to anyone in it. However, I think Mr. Loewy may be onto something with his theory. I was raised as a Christian and all my life I have been reminded that God uses each of us for his purpose. He prefers to use our good acts for his purpose, but if he must he will use our bad acts for his purpose too. The (so called) "reverend phelps" is no doubt the epitome of a bad example of a Christian.
As anyone who reads my blog knows, although I consider myself a Christian, I have little in common with fundamental or evangelical Christians. Generally instead of spreading the Gospel of Christ to the world as Christians are supposed to do, they have perverted the Gospel and turned what is supposed to be the Good News of redemption for all of us into a false message of judgement and damnation.
The "reverend phelps" has become so vociferous in his message of hate, judgement and message of damnation that he has actually alienated and embarrassed even the fundamentalist and the evangelicals. He has forced them to step back and proclaim their rejections of both his message and his tactics.
Phelps has called attention to a long standing problem for the fundamentalists in his use of Romans 9:13 to proclaim God as a hater, for in the very same book in Chapter 8:35-39 is the proclamation that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Obviously, both of these verses cannot be the literal truth and fundamentalists make a great deal of the supposed fact that the Bible is without error and without contradiction. It simply is not so, and any thinking person sees contradictions throughout the Bible.
As a Christian who sees plenty of hate and condemnation in the world, I fail to see any need at all for a religious philosophy that only talks about more hate and more damnation. If God is not a God of unconditional love, I have no need of him. I certainly have no need of the "reverend phelps" of the world.
Sometimes, my own belief in the unconditionality of God's love is inconvenient; for that belief means that God loves the reverend phelps as much as he loves anyone else. But love him or not, I can't see a loving God allowing a hater such as phelps to enter into the Kingdom of God. That's a problem for God to work out, not me. But I think the "reverend phelps" may have to spend a few thousand years in some kind of remedial Hell contemplating his sins and his hate and making amends to all those he has hated, scorned and saddened.
(I added the photos to Mr. Loewy's article below.)
A Stupid Enemy Can Be Best Friend
By ARNOLD H. LOEWY
Almost a century ago, Woodrow Wilson famously said: "I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man be a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise that fact by speaking." I would add a corollary to President Wilson's aphorism: A movement's greatest friend may be the stupidity of its worst enemy.
Those in my generation remember Birmingham Police Chief "Bull" Connor attacking civil rights demonstrators with police dogs. That stupid decision by the chief may well have been the moment when the hearts and minds of most Americans were won over to Martin Luther King Jr. and the other demonstrators. Of course, Connor's conduct was not protected by the First Amendment
A short decade ago anti-gay jokes were rampant, it would have been unthinkable to support gay·marriage and the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy was absolutely the most to which gays were entitled. Today, several states permit gay marriage, "don't ask, don't. tell" is a thing of the past, and our president has even threatened to discontinue foreign aid to countries that discriminate against homosexuals.
What has happened? My answer is Phelps. His anti-gay rhetoric has been so over the top that it is no longer socially acceptable to be antigay. Undoubtedly there are still some people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality, but thanks to Phelps and his cohorts, it is those opposed to homosexuality who are now "in the closet." From their perspective, it is better to suffer homosexuality in silence than·to be associated with Phelps and his church.
So the Westboro Baptist Church, by exercising its free speech rights, has done for the homosexual rights movement exactly what" Connor, did for the civil rights movement.
Although this is the major example of our time, it is not the only one. Recently at Suffolk Law school, during a campaign to send care packages to the troops, one law professor sent a five-paragraph email arguing that it was immoral to send care packages to those whose job is to kill others. While his colleagues and,administrative superiors defended his right to free speech, they also indicated their intent to send care packages.
I've imagined what I would do if I were a member of that faculty. I suspect that when I first received the solicitation to send the care package, I may or may not have been sufficiently moved to do the right thing. But once I received that email, I am quite sure that I would have sent the package!
Wilson spoke of the wisdom of maximizing free speech. If Wilson was correct, and I believe that he was, Phelps and his church are surely exhibit A.
Loewy is a professor of criminal law at Texas Tech School of Law.