Friday, March 21, 2014

Mohler: Fred Phelps preached a false gospel

Timely words from Albert Mohler, upon the death of cult leader Fred Phelps:
Fred Phelps became infamous due to one central fact — he was a world-class hater. He brought great discredit to the Gospel of Christ because his message was undiluted hatred packaged as the beliefs of a church. Even Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to Westboro Baptist Church as “this so-called church.” The damage was due to the fact that his platform for hatred was called a church. That provided the watching and listening world with a ready target and case study for the accusation that Christian conviction on questions of sexual morality is nothing more than disguised hatred for homosexuals. And, like radioactivity, Fred Phelps’ hatred will survive in lasting half-lives of animus.

The media made Fred Phelps into a public image, but they could hardly ignore a prophet of antipathy who showed up with his followers in public demonstrations and took his case for public protest all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. Phelps and the media needed each other and fed each other. The New York Times described Phelps as “a loathed figure at the fringe of the American religious scene,” but he was not a fringe figure in terms of media attention. I have done my best not to add to his publicity, but as calls from the media in recent days made clear, the time has come for a necessary word.

Fred Phelps claimed to preach against homosexuality, calling out sin as sin. “The way to prove you love your neighbor is to warn them that they’re committing sin,” he said in 2004. That is the full lie of a half truth. The way you prove you love your neighbor is to be honest about sin — including our own sin — in order to tell the good news of the forgiveness of sin and salvation in Christ.

Phelps knew exactly what he was doing. As The Washington Post reported yesterday: “He found comfort in being a pariah. ‘If I had nobody mad at me, what right would I have to claim that I was preaching the gospel?’”

But that raises the most emphatic point — it was not the gospel that Fred Phelps was preaching. The gospel is the declaration of the good news that God saves sinners. It is the declaration of the fact that there is forgiveness of sins and life everlasting to be found in Christ and in belief in Him, and that is not the message for which Fred Phelps was known and hated.