To those of us whose vocations consist largely of commenting on the momentous trends and events going on all around us, it can be easy to fall for the delusion that ultimately the world itself orbits those of us observing it.
Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church has gained for himself and his congregation a degree of notoriety for his insistence that "God Hates Fags".
One can at least argue with this proposition as either incorrect or for at least failing to remember the distinction of God hating the sin but loving the sinner. However, it is from this oratorical peak that Phelps descends into rhetorical irrationality.
Phelps skyrocketed to national infamy when he started showing up at funerals of U.S. military personnel having given their lives for their country in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of respecting this sacrifice irrespective of whether or not one agrees with an interventionist approach to the war on terror, the Phelpsians show up at what should be the most solemn of moments and basically rub it in the noses of grieving families that their fallen loved ones got what they deserved for serving in the government of a nation under the judgment of God for applauding outright immorality.
The outrage does not stop there. Though mocking the honored dead in this fashion grates upon the patriotic sensibilities of all good Americans, military families are for the most part an admirably stoic lot and able to take the ingratitude of certain elements in stride.
However, even this level of disgust is not low or self-absorbed enough for the Phelpsians.
On April 5, 2008, two teens were killed in a car accident late at night in Finksburg, Maryland. Most upon hearing a tragedy such as this would attribute the occurrence to some kind of driver error, vehicular malfunction, roadway mishap, or environmental conditions. However, to the members of the Phelps cult, the lives of these young people were cut short because of God's judgment against the State of Maryland for defying the will of Westboro Baptist Church.
For you see, a jury in the state awarded a $5 million judgment to the father of a soldier whose funeral the Phelpsians had protested. According to a press account mentioned in a 4/8/08 Carroll County Times story titled "Church Plans Teen Funeral Protests", the sect believes God now hates Maryland and all tragedies befalling residents of the state can be traced back to this particular ruling.
Doesn't such a claim border on idolatry for at least two reasons?
Firstly, doesn't only God know why He allows certain tragedies such as teens having their lives cut short before they have really begun to live them?
Secondly, isn't it the epitome of arrogance to think you are so important that God is going to smite an entire state just because its judiciary ticked you off?
The congregation of Westboro might claim to be Baptist, but my friends, any Fundamentalist worthy of the name cannot speak to the specificity of God's will to that degree as the good Fundamentalist sticks to those things revealed in His word or deducible from it and hesitant to act on those things they think God is whispering in the ear that cannot be backed up.
Thirdly, one of the saddest facts of living in a fallen world is that, sooner or later, suffering and death will touch every single one of us. One doesn't have to be Robert Schuller to appreciate the adage that those living in glass houses shouldn't hurl stones.
Thus the Phelpsians should think long and hard before one of life's inevitable tragedies comes knocking at their door, and someone will rub the noses of this sect in the misfortune happening to fall upon them.