An adorable little girl with blonde hair, two or three years old, sings a song she learned at her church into the camera. No, it’s not “Jesus Loves Me.” The lyrics teach a different message. “God hates the world, and all her people.”
The little girl attends Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas with her family. Westboro gained notoriety when its members began picketing at the funerals of military personnel who had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Protestors carry signs that read, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “You’re going to hell” and “God hates fags.”
In 2006 they protested at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder in Maryland. Snyder’s father, Albert, sued Westboro’s pastor, Fred Phelps, and won a jury trial, which awarded Snyder $5 million. A federal judge upheld the verdict, but it was reversed by a federal appeals court. Snyder took the case to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments October 6.
The case increased the media coverage of the church. Church members make no apologies for their caustic message of hate. In an interview with Hannity and Colmes, Shirley Phelps-Roper defiantly claimed that she feels good about “warning this nation that the wrath of God is pouring out on their heads. The Lord your God is punishing this nation and He’s doing it, one of His weapons of choice is sending your children home dead from the battle.”
Phelps’ daughter, Margie, has served as the defense attorney. She asserted in an interview for the PBS News Hour, “It is irrelevant whether that soldier, or any of these soldiers, is homosexual. Primary point can be recapped like this: When you don the doomed American military uniform today, that stands for one thing in this world, same-sex marriage.”
Homosexuals are not the only target of their hate language. Singing to the tune of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” adults and children chant with glee, “Hey evil reprobate Jews, God hates you and you know it.” In fact, anyone who does not believe like they do are on a fast train to hell.
When we arrive in the New Testament, God demonstrates His love and grace through the death and resurrection of His Son so powerfully that God’s wrath plays only a supporting role in the gospel message. The wrath of God in the punishment of sin still occupies the message. In fact, through the death of His Son, God shows that He cannot compromise His wrath and that it obligates Him to punish all sin. Jesus was sinless, but he willingly took the sins of men upon Himself and entered the heavenly courtroom for judgment and execution.
This display of grace draws the spotlight to the love of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” John 3:16. While the message declares God’s just wrath against sin, the New Testament repeatedly affirms God’s love for the sinner.
Although God’s wrath and love operate in perfect harmony, hatred should never characterize Christ’s followers. Paul reminded Titus of their former condition apart from the grace of God, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another,” Titus 3:3.
What saved them? Was it the relentless message of God’s hatred of sinners, of which they were foremost? No. “But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us … according to his own mercy,” Titus. 3:4-5.
Even if God’s judgment of sin is still necessary to the message of God’s grace and love in Christ, how should Jesus’ followers present that message? Paul instructs Titus, “Remind them [Christ’s followers] … to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people,” Titus 3:1-2.
You have to wonder if Pastor Phelps ever preaches passages like these to his congregation. How does he interpret them in the context of his church’s hostile and acerbic protests? Do these professing followers of Christ present a balanced picture of God’s activity in the world?
We then must ask ourselves how well we are doing in presenting a balanced picture of the holy God who must judge all sin. His nature requires His wrath to purify His kingdom of anything that would violate His righteous and holy glory. In His marvelous love, we see this wrath satisfied forever through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
The gospel is not a message of hatred. It is a message of love, a love that surpasses our understanding and escapes our comprehension. This is the good news of the gospel.