Tuesday, August 04, 2009

God Hates? God Loves?

We happened to leave Wichita on Sunday, and were "treated" to two different episodes of picketing at local churches as we drove out of town. These picketers were from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church where the equally infamous "Pastor" Fred Phelps presents his version of the gospel, and encourages the members of his congregation (largely his family) to spread a skewed version of the Good News. For those of you not familiar, the Phelps family has demonstrated at funerals of our fallen soldiers, leading to the creation of laws banning such protests so that grieving families may lay their loved ones to rest peacefully. The members of this congregation have also protested against homosexuality, at the memorial service of the former leader of the LDS church, and at Michael Jackson's funeral...to name just a few of their causes.

Matthew was sitting next to me as we passed the first group of picketers, where a couple of children who appeared to be no older than 5 or 6 held up profanity laced signs. He immediately perked up and asked me what this was all about, and why those kids would hold up signs saying such awful things, and why they would do so at the entrance to a church. Joshie and Kenny had not noticed, as they were playing in the back seat, so I attempted to explain the group's actions in terms Matthew would understand without treating his curiosity with a lack of respect or by "dumbing down" my responses. Sadly, hate is a part of our world and at 10 years old Matthew is becoming more aware of the larger world around him. He is also very perceptive and introspective. He would immediately know if I was dodging him, so I always answer his questions straight up.

But how does one explain such things as Fred Phelps and his anger at America and Americans? I struggled to find the words to combat the words printed boldly on the signs Matthew had read, words that are contrary to everything he has been taught...God Hates. He was quite confused by one sign in particular that declared "Thank God For Dead Soldiers". He looked up at me and asked "Mommy, why would God hate soldiers who die for us? Aren't they doing a good thing protecting us? These guys make no sense to me!".

I found myself in a moral dilemma, one that many of you might not find to be a dilemma at all. For many parents it would be a quick "These guys are nut jobs, just ignore them." and that would be end the conversation. Or perhaps the entire thing would not be acknowledged and questions would not be answered in an effort to protect a child's innocence. Maybe that is the road I should have taken, but as I sat there quietly mulling all of this over, I realized a simple answer would not suffice, and that ignoring it would be the chicken's way out. I may be a chicken in some regards, but when it comes to my kids I am a Momma Bear and sometimes even Momma Bears have to face challenges they'd prefer to avoid.

So, taking a deep breath and carefully measuring my response, I decided to take this to another level with Matthew. I felt he deserved it, and it was my job to figuratively take his hand and walk through it with him. So we began...

I explained that there are many approaches to Christianity, many extremes in all faiths, and that he had just witnessed one of them. I tried as best I could to explain the Phelp's family's perspective about how God hates all evil and those that Fred Phelps personally perceives as being evil, based upon his interpretation of the Bible. We talked about the contrast between hating sin but not hating the sinner, about forgiveness, about redemption.

Then we tippy toed down the most difficult path when I asked Matthew "Do you think what they are doing is right?" and he replied "No way!", and then I asked "Do you think God loves the Phelps family as much as God loves you and I, even though they are spreading hatred in God's world?"...and Matthew remained quiet for a few moments, then replied thoughtfully "Yea, I think so, because I think God loves everyone, and if God can forgive murder and stuff like that, then God will forgive these guys for saying mean things." He then added "But I still think they are pretty bad people to even have their kids carrying around signs with bad words on it.".

The conversation then drifted towards the rights of every American to voice their opinions about anything, even if it is distasteful to the majority of people. I said "Do you realize that the very soldiers they are saying such awful things about are willing to die in part for the right for these people to say such things? You know that in many countries people would be killed for saying things against the government or against what the government thinks is right. How do you think the soldiers families feel when they see signs at their son's or husband's funerals?". We spent the next 20 miles or so weighing whether it was worth it or not to die for people like this to say horrible things. Ultimately, Matt came to the conclusion that he loves living where we can all be free, and that freedom means that everyone is free...not just those who agree with us.

I personally find Fred Phelps and those of his ilk repulsive. To my way of thinking, they are twisted and represent a distorted view. Are they evil personified? It might be best if we reminded ourselves that just as we may see them as evil, they too see us as equally evil. Who is right? Does God love or does God hate?

If I am to truly embrace that God loves us all, then that means that God loves Fred Phelps and his family. Ooohhh...that is a hard one for me! It puts it all out there, doesn't it? God loves our enemies just as much as we are loved, and man, that is a concept that is hard to swallow sometimes, especially when we feel that someone is the antithesis of what the gospel teaches, and yet there is that unrelenting Love that we claim to believe in. We show we truly believe it when we recognize that even those who are at odds with us are still loved, even if not by us.

And isn't that a comforting thought? To know that we too are always loved even when at times we might be despised by those around us? Whether that loathing is earned or not, we have redemption and love waiting for us.

God may hate behavior, God may hate actions or thoughts or deeds. God does not hate us, no matter our failings.

And God loves Fred Phelps too, whether I'd be capable of that or not.


Heather said...

Glad you had a great time on your trip. Looked like fun!. About this Phelps guy and his ridiculous distorted view of Christianity....I must be living under a rock because I hadn't heard of him. He is so completely upside down in his thinking that it is mind boggling. Evidently, he missed the "love the sinner, hate the sin" message. Maybe one day he will see his wrong, until then, we have to hold true to this TRUE message of love.

Raynola said...

I'm glad that your visit went well and that you are all back and safe.

However, I am a little sad that Matthew received a forced education on the skewed thinking of some human beings, but I guess it was an educational process none-the-less.

I think that you are being very generous in calling Phelps and his followers Christians, but I also think that Matthew's answers to your questions and his insightful idiology/theology is a testament to your parenting and raising your children as true and loving Chrisitans. I want to send a message to Matthew, if I may.

I am so glad that you can recognize the difference between right and wrong thinking. I am encouraged that you can love all people, even if they don't think and live like you.

I believe like you do, that God loves all of his children, even when they do and say things that are wrong. And I don't think that God hates anyone, the very foundation of God's message is based upon love and how He loves us and wants us to love Him back, through our faith. When your mother looks at you and you can just feel the love that she has for you with all of your heart, that is how God looks at you. Indeed that is how God looks at all of His children, only when He looks at you He is smiling and beeming with pride, for in you He has an exemplary young Christian man. You understand the most important messages of God's word and He and your mother are very proud of you. And you know what? even though I have never met you, I am too.

God Bless You Matthew, I hope that I have the honor and pleasure of meeting you someday.

Anonymous said...

Cindy - Great job explaining to Matthew - my own spin would have been on America and how our Constitution ensures that people can believe as they want...and say what they want...no matter how nutty it may be. "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it to the death." But, that is my less than religious perspective on it! :-) LV

Michelle said...

i mentioned I grew up in kansas and lived in topeka (phelp's home base) for many years. I probably saw them protest at least once a week. The hardest part is seeing young children being taught to hate. I do everything I can to keep my kids from hating anything and to see a family teaching their children hate in the God's name is truly heartbreaking.

Hilary Marquis said...

And I thought explaining a person's decision to smoke cigarettes was tough today!

Nan & Jim said...

Thanks for a thoughtful, non-judgmental (hey, you tried) perspective on such hate-mongering. In my family there are Christians, Jews and Muslims. There are Kazakhs, Koreans, Irish, Germans and Iraqis. And there are generations of Military. All of these deserve respect, and I appreciate the tools you've offered your sons (and I may borrow for mine) for how to handle what comes along.

Lisa said...

I grieve for the children that fall under the scope of Phelps and his ilk; they have no say and sadly they have no one with your insight, patience, respect, faith and grace to aid them in finding their own answers to the difficult and hard questions. Great job Mama; its all too easy to shy away from the "big stuff" and takes a whole lot of courage to tackle it.
Bless you all....and bless all the families whose pain/grief has been worsened due to his group's actions.

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

You're such a great mom. I want your skills!!

Anonymous said...

Google operation paperclip and look at what your country did to us. Where was jesus then? All these posts have pride way outside what your messiah would be proud of. The flesh is sin, how is it that you ignore that and live life like you are not sin. How does anyone even think that God is in any way human like? How do you know that the original aramaic translated into your modern bible, do you know what the original manuscripts were called and why there is so much controversy about it and why that is all swept under the rug to get back at their true cause, taking money and using it selfishly for their own purposes. Do you know how dangerous neuroleptics are? Where was god when those were made? Why does god allow torture? Answers are truth, caution.