Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Westboro Baptist Church makes me angry.  Really angry.

Sign at The Abbey of Gethsemane
Sign at The Abbey of Gethsemane

The church’s very web address is a message of hate.  Their top “quick link” is their picket schedule.  I only lasted five minutes on their site while researching them before my eyes filled with tears at the injustice of it all.

Please hear me.  God hates no one.  He forever reaches for all of us with tender, compassionate grace.  His heart toward us is eternally merciful.  He is kind and gentle.  Jesus is the humble friend of sinners (and that means…all of us.)  While Christ walked among us, he spoke harshly to one group of people alone- the “righteous”: those who were pompously exalting themselves over their fellow man.

Westboro Baptist Church also breaks my heart simply because they tell lies about the One I love most.  Day after day, they viciously slander my God- a God who has sought me tenderly, loved me faithfully, and restored me gently.  It is an offense that is more than I can take.

The truth is…my human impulse upon hearing that Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist, was nearing death was less than Christ-like.  I was not sorrowful for his imminent passing.  I speculated that there must be some kind of justice awaiting him in eternity.

It was all very Westboro Baptist of me.

Then, Jesus gently reminded me that He loves Fred Phelps too.  Through the centuries, I heard Jesus remind me that He was always maligned, disdained, slandered, and shamed.  From the cross I heard Him whisper the same prayer for Fred Phelps that He also whispered for those who tortured Him and divided His clothes between them.  It is the same plea He also has often prayed for me as well- “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

And so I bowed my head and prayed for Mr. Phelps.  I prayed that his last hours might be free from suffering and that the peace of Christ would meet him as he enters eternity.  I realized with new clarity that his own life must have been weighted down with condemnation and shame for him to so desperately seek out others to be the bearer of it all.  I prayed that as this world fades away, and the voice of the accuser with it, that he would at last rest in the truth that God is a God of grace and Jesus is a friend of sinners.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King

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