Was chatting with a friend about the passing of Fred Phelps, erstwhile 'pastor' of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
We were wondering how anyone could operate in association with the liberating power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for so long and yet be so unlike the Jesus that gospel proclaims.
Of course the answer is obvious: like so many others, Phelps' so-called faith was "nominal." The word 'nominal' comes from the Latin word for "name." Essentially, Phelps seems to have been a Christian "in name only."
And Jesus knew about that sort of thing. In his sermon-on-the-mount, he said to those who claimed to be working in his name, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."
Phelps' lack of love and his propensity towards hate, retribution, and anger is a part of his life story both as part of his family life and the reason he was disbarred. Even in his activity as an attorney for working to dismantle the Jim Crow laws in Kansas, it seems to me that he was fueled not by a desire for justice as much as a means to vent his anger at those around him.
Certainly Phelps hurt and damaged many people during the course of his "ministry." Not only those who had to endure his energetic hatred, but then those who came under his sway in the course of exercising authority as a "pastor." They have been exposed to a twisted counterfeited lie of 'gospel.' Will those people ever get the real gospel preached to them?
Let me affirm that God, in fact, does hate sin. But when God himself describes himself, here's what he wants the greatest prophet in the Old Testament - Moses - to know about what God is like:
"The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exo 34:6-7 ESV, emphasis added).
Folks, notice - yes, God doesn't take kindly to those who are guilty. That's at the end of the description. But also notice that God doesn't lead off with that. God wants Moses to know that, primarily, God is merciful, gracious, patient, exceptionally generous, and - here it is - FORGIVES iniquity, transgression, and sin. So when God gets down to "visiting iniquity," he's talking about 'lower order' things. And why that should be is for another post.
The point is that Phelps' "gospel" (I put that in quotes because it) is not a real gospel. And the Apostle Paul knew that would happen. He said, "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:9 ESV)
Folks, and I especially address this to my friends from school and work who loved to point to people like Phelps and claim they represent Christians and Christianity. You are partially right! Yes, Phelps and the other hucksters who have gone before him (and will come after him), they do claim to represent "Christianity." But their "Christianity" is a misleading, twisted, lie. I'll personally go a bit further - really; suggesting that Phelps and the other nut-cases represent real Christianity is a convenient straw man. And now the question is: why do you want to erect that straw man??
If you want to know what real Christianity is about, you need to read what Jesus and the guys he appointed for the task said the gospel was. Read the Bible, interpret it well, and listen to the real gospel of Jesus.