Pod people: Repent! If God will listen, saith Phelps

This is the last that you will hear from me for some time, I hope and pray, about the Westboro Baptist Church crew. Dear God in heaven, make it so.

Nevertheless, my most recent Westboro post and the new Scripps Howard column on the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., provided the base for this week’s Crossroads podcast. Click here to listen to it, or you can download it at the same link or over at iTunes. The emphasis, once again, is on the legal and theological issues behind the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of this truly radical independent congregation.

However, thinking back on this podcast chat, I realize that we didn’t dig any deeper into one of the questions that people kept asking me in response to my Scripps column this week. People wanted to know what I THOUGHT about this bunch, on the emotional level, the spiritual level, a personal level.

How to respond? Well, much of what they have to say is outright heresy, from the point of view of orthodox Christian and Orthodox Christian theology. I could call it “smoke from the pit of hell” and that would be accurate. But that would also be accurate, in terms of describing my own sins.

So here is a serious answer. In an earlier Scripps Howard News Service column I tried to do a bit of reporting on a key plank in the Phelps doctrinal platform, which is why the church has such a harsh view both of gays and, well, Southern Baptists. Hang tight.

The words of the fifth Psalm are not for the faint of heart.

“Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness. … The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity,” warned the psalmist.

Obviously, says the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, this passage teaches that God hates the evil liberals who run the Southern Baptist Convention, along with legions of other Americans. Phelps also believes that God hates the pope and plenty of other religious leaders who are called “conservatives,” “traditionalists” and even “fundamentalists” in public debates about faith, morality and culture.

And at the end of the column, there’s more:

According to his reading of Psalm 5 and many other scripture passages, Phelps believes that God hates what he calls “kissy-pooh” sermons that refuse to proclaim that God never, ever forgives homosexuals and many other sinners.

The Westboro website once warned preachers who claim that God will forgive those who repent, no matter what: “You are going to Hell! Period! End of discussion! God’s decree sending you to Hell is irreversible! Hypocrites!”

“That’s Bible preaching,” Phelps told Baptist Press, in a 2003 interview about his beliefs. “You tell [people] that God loves everybody? You’re lying on God.”

Has anyone ever seen this information in a mainstream NEWS report about the Westboro troops? It seems crucial, to me. They literally worship a God who does not love all repentant sinners. They shout “Repent!” but do not believe that all sinners can repent. That is, I believe, a big part of the Westboro story.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Kate

    I agree with you that this is a key piece of theology that sheds a lot of light on what makes Westboro different from other denominations. I would love to see this get some coverage when these guys show up in the news. There is a stereotype of the Christian who damns his enemies to hell, which is libelous to most Christians (who would much rather their enemies convert) but in the case of Westboro, it seems to be their mission to do just that.

  • Dave

    Some years ago I ran across a quote to the effect that, contrary to the “God is love” meme, the Bible says a lot more about God’s hatred than God’s love. The memory is vague (which is true of a lot of memories these days ;-)) but I think the source was one of the Phelps clan.

  • Jerry

    This is the last that you will hear from me for some time, I hope and pray, about the Westboro Baptist Church crew.


  • SteveP

    The Foust article relays a couple of nuances. Perhaps the most important: “I don’t say that everybody who’s ever had a rare, sporadic or occasional experience — that they were ashamed of, that they somehow got trapped into it as part of their loose living — I don’t say that every one of them is in that category” . . . “What I’m saying is that those that are what they call ‘in the life’ [cannot be saved].”

    To me that sounds like some Episcopalian “reasserters” who disagree with their Church’s direction. It sounds like Catholic liberals who, when pressed, back off an absolute pronouncement and concede that some of the rich will be taken to Heaven.

    Not that I am disagreeing with your opinion tmatt – you made it clear that was being relayed here. Rather you had asked, in a previous post, if the voice was familiar and I can say, from Foust’s article, yes I have heard the same tenor in other venues from non-Phelpites.

  • Dave

    SteveP, I daresay you can get Phelpsoid vibes from street corner preachers in any major city. The question (as I understand it) is whether you can find the “some are irremediably damned” line from a religious institution that gets any but the most cursory MSM coverage.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Back to the journalism issues, guys.

  • SteveP

    Dave – I understood the question and am suggesting, however tangentially, the two assertions in the last paragraph are opinion rather than a stated position by Westboro. For example, the Scripps column relays, “Phelps believes that God hates what he calls “kissy-pooh” sermons that refuse to proclaim that God never, ever forgives homosexuals and many other sinners.” If that is a reference to the Baptist Press interview, then it is a compression – rather than summarization – of nine paragraphs which are loosely connected; the 2003 interview has a different emphasis regarding “kissy-pooh” preaching.

    Further, in the interview there is a direct quote from Phelps: “No, I don’t think that homosexuals can be saved” which, again, is a different emphasis from the statement “. . . God never, ever forgives homosexuals . . .”

    I also realize, when it comes to informed opinions, that tmatt’s opinion is likely far more informed than mine will ever be regarding the subject matter. Just looking at the source material linked to the above posting, I could not follow to the concluding opinion — I am sure that is my fault alone.

    tmatt – may God grant your prayer.

  • Jettboy

    I would like to know if there is anything Phelps preaches that is any different than classic Calvinism? Whenever I hear mainstream Calvinist preaching it seems to be saying, ““You are going to Hell! Period! End of discussion! God’s decree sending you to Hell is irreversible! Hypocrites!” The historical sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards resonates with the same flavor for me, although perhaps with slightly more assurance of forgiveness.

    My point is that I have been critical of GetReligion, and other Christian reporters and commentators, because the protestations that they are not like other Christians. Its never explained why they aren’t other than some kind of dislike of how they present themselves. The truth is that from my experience many Christians (even those opposed to the group) believe almost exactly like them, but with less passion and more public relations caution.

  • John M.


    Not even close. The gulf between what Phelps and other fundamentalists believe and mainstream Christian thought (or even some radical Christian thinkers) is as wide as the differences between entire religions.

    So from my expedience (and study) many Christians do not believe anything close to what the Phelps preach.

  • John M.

    Additionally, this should not surprise anyone. After all, it’s fairly obvious that the Phelps clan simply does what it does to gain attention for it’s hair brained legal schemes (for goodness sake, he claims that Bill O’Reilly is an ally to the gay community and that Fox News is a Liberal think tank).