Fred Phelps is dead. There’s only one interesting thing about Phelps: He was the mirror that respectable evangelicals hated to look into. The only difference between Fred and, say, the editors of Christianity Today magazine, is that Fred was really, really rude, made less money and got arrested more often. But in the essentials of his Calvinist evangelical theology, Fred was a good mainstream evangelical.
If you believe in Calvinist theology — Phelps stated that he held to all of the Five Points of Calvinism, you are Fred Phelps. If you believe in John Calvin’s doctrine of unconditional election, the belief that God has elected certain people for salvation before birth, and limited atonement, the belief that Christ only died for the elect, and condemns those who believe otherwise, you are Fred Phelps.
Phelps just loved hell! So do the editors of Christianity Today magazine. Consider the implications.
When Christianity Today magazine’s editor Mark Galli, attacked the movie “Hellbound?” he did it because the movie questioned the existence of hell. Galli is the author of God Wins, a pro-hell book that simultaneously tried to cash in on the best-selling title of the anti-hell book Love Wins, while at the same time “answering” the Rob Bell in order to defend the evangelical establishment view of a literal hell.
Reminder: the hell evangelicals love is the place all those Jews gassed in WWII went to seconds after they died because they never had “accepted Jesus.” The hell Franklin Graham and the likes of Galli defend, is the place gay people go if they don’t repent.
In juxtaposing Westboro Baptist protesters and an angry Mark Driscoll with calm universalists, the film suggests that those who believe in hell as conscious eternal torment are basically tormented themselves: fearful and judgmental… It never seems to have occurred to the filmmaker that there are thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelicals who believe in hell and may have some pretty strong reasons for doing so.
Put it this way: if you believe in a literal hell – even if, like Galli, you describe yourself as a one of the “thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelicals who believe in hell,” you are just a better dressed smoother Fred Phelps. Think that’s an overstatement? How can you overstate a theology, no matter how politely it’s put by irenic evangelicals, that burns women and babies forever because they got born in the wrong village in China and so never accepted Jesus?
That seems a lot worse to me than just yelling “God hates faggs!” I mean what could be worse than wanting to DEFEND hell and calling people like Rob Bell, who believe in a loving God, heretics?
In my book And God Said, “Billy!“ exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, I explore where the Fred Phelps/Christianity Today magazine hell-loving delusional version of spirituality leads. It leads the deluded evangelicals to a hilariously funny place, but it’s not so funny for the people trapped by it. (Yes, I named my character for Billy Graham.) In the book I offer one solution: Edit the Bible through Jesus in other words: Edit the Bible through the compassionate empathy that has evolved in us human primates.
Most human beings are nicer than Phelps’ and Galli’s “God,” deal with it! If you believe in a retributive God that sent his son to die in atonement for your sins, you are Fred Phelps. So you’re too polite to picket military funerals. You are still Fred Phelps.
If you’ve been buying into the post-Falwell, “God is judging America for our sins” commonplace evangelical/Fox News lament, you are Fred Phelps. If you think being born gay is a sin, you are Fred Phelps.
If you are an editor of Christianity Today magazine attacking people like Rob Bell, and Kevin Miller, and Brian McLaren, all because they dare to say that maybe no one is going to hell, and you grimly want there to be a hell, you are Fred Phelps.
If you think it was okay for Dr. Dobson to advocate beating children as “discipline,” you are Fred Phelps. Fred just beat his kids a little harder. If you think men should be the head of the household, you are Fred Phelps, he beat his wife but you settle for just trying to control her… you’re still an SOB.
Hate makes sense for people who believe in the Bible as “inerrant.” They call their hate love – as in we “love the sinner just hate the sin” – but it’s still hate. They say God made them do it.
At least Fred Phelps didn’t hide behind bullshit and describe himself as a thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelical… who believes in hell!
Coming Soon From Frank Schaeffer (Pub Date May 15)…
WHY I’M AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD
How to Create Beauty, Give Love and Find Peace
Caught between the beauty of his grandchildren and grief over a friend’s death, Frank Schaeffer finds himself simultaneously believing and not believing in God—an atheist who prays. Schaeffer wrestles with faith and disbelief, sharing his innermost thoughts with the lyricism that only great writers of literary nonfiction achieve. Schaeffer writes as an imperfect son, husband and grandfather whose love for his family, art and life trumps the ugly theologies of an angry God and the atheist vision of a cold, meaningless universe. Schaeffer writes that only when we abandon our hunt for certainty do we become free to create beauty, give love and find peace.
“As someone who has made redemption his work, Frank has, in fact, shown amazing grace.” — Jane Smiley, Washington Post
“To millions of evangelical Christians, the Schaeffer name is royal, and Frank is the reluctant, wayward, traitorous prince. His crime is not financial profligacy, like some pastors’ sons, but turning his back on Christian conservatives.” — New York Times
“Frank Schaeffer’s gifts as a writer are sensual and loving. He’s also laugh-out-loud funny!” — Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book – And God Said, “Billy!“ exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, is on Kindle, iBook and NOOK for $3.99, and in paperback. It spent 8 weeks as Amazon’s #1 best seller for Political Humor.