I don’t know of a better example of pure evil in the world today than the members of an insane religious cult in Kansas who claim to speak for God. For those of us who are Christians, though, it’s a warning that it’s easy to believe that our thoughts and judgments all come from God.
Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is widely known for picketing military funerals and protesting pretty much everything you can think of. Its members claim that “God hates fags.” (That’s even the name of the group’s website.) Every time something bad happens in this country, the group claims it’s evidence of God’s judgement of America. They picket funerals to bring attention to their claim that the deaths and disasters represent God’s hatred of a sinful America.
Today, this group announced that members would be picketing the funerals of the Teutenberg family (above), the members of which were killed in a plane crash last Saturday in rural Alabama. For the hate-filled details, see this press release (PDF) from the group. You really need to read it for yourself to get the full effect of how insane and how hateful these people are.
Why are they picketing the funerals of this family? It’s hard to say. The news release claims that the family was “…killed in a plane crash by an angry God for the sins of a wicked nation….” In other words, there’s nothing in particular about this family the group objects to. It was merely an excuse to draw attention to themselves and their claims.
As far as I’m concerned, the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t Baptist and it isn’t a church. It’s a nutty and hateful cult whose insane leader, Fred Phelps, has taken the hate in himself and indoctrinated mentally weak people into following him. (I’ve read before that most of the group’s membership is related to Phillips, but I can’t find the specifics right now.) The group isn’t affiliated with any recognized denominational group and certainly isn’t connected to any of the Baptist conventions.
It’s easy to look at these over-the-top hateful people and smugly feel good in knowing that we would never be like them. In many ways, that’s true. I’ll never picket a funeral. I’ll never say that God hates people. I’ll never act in the insane and hate-filled ways that the members of this group do.
But I judge people. I apply my standards of what people should be to others and think that God would judge them more severely than He would me. I sometimes have a mental “sin list” outlining which sins are the really bad ones (the ones other people do) and which sins are those that should be ignored (the “little ones” that I commit, of course). On a small scale, am I less guilty than the members of this cult of trying to speak for God?
As a Christian, I believe that God does condemn sin. I believe that human beings are hopelessly lost without salvation. But it’s not up to me to condemn and judge. It’s up to me to love people and pray that God will show them the error of their ways — just as I daily pray the same for myself. Sadly, for me, that includes not hating and judging the insane people of this cult. The same God who saved me — very flawed and continually broken again — can save people who are as filled with hate as they are.
I can’t find the quote right now, but I once heard talk radio host Ian Punnett say that for many people, God’s voice was just themselves with a deeper voice — and I’ve seen that over and over again in various people, including Fred Phillips, but also in people who are respectable Christians (and pastors) in my own life. We can and will disagree about how God feels about a wide variety of things, including things that are seemingly covered in scripture. And if you’re from another religion or if you’re an atheist, your entire framework for evaluating God or morality or the meaning of life is going to be entirely different from mine.
For now, though, I’m mostly concerned about the witness of myself and my fellow Christians. I believe we know the Truth. We know God — because He has revealed Himself to us in our hearts through scripture and through spirit. But we make a mockery of all of that when we go beyond what He actually says. We put ourselves in grave danger of His judgement when we dare to speak for Him in areas outside of the narrow places where there is complete clarity for us.
I’m confident that God has saved me. I’m confident that God can reveal Himself to anyone He wants to. I’m confident that God can change anyone. But I’m not arrogant enough to speak for Him. It’s a daily struggle to make sure that I don’t judge for Him, even in my own mind and heart.
I’m disgusted that the members of this Kansas cult will be at the Florida funeral of this family, but we as Christians need to look at our own judgmental spirits before we’re really worthy of condemning them without also condemning ourselves.