“But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you” (Matthew 5:44).
Last week, the founder and pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, died. In his life and “ministry”, he preached a message of hatred toward sinners, especially homosexuals, and organised protests and picketings of various public events, including war veterans’ funerals, because he maintained that their deaths were a sign of God’s judgement on America. When it was reported that he was on his deathbed, and later, had passed away, social media was buzzing with comments and reactions to his death, often uncharitably rejoicing at his death, hoping for his eternal torment, and suggesting people even picket his funeral.
Dishearteningly, many of these comments were made by Christians.
Understandably, the WBC did a lot to reinforce in the public mind, the idea that the Church hates homosexuals, etc., and thus undermined authentic Christian witness to the Gospel. Others simply resent Phelps’ condemnation of their own faith, particularly the Catholic faith. Feelings of bitterness and resentment are natural in such circumstances.
But that’s precisely the problem. Jesus calls us to go above the natural, through His grace, to the supernatural. If we only love our friends, but hate our enemies, we’re no different than the pagan culture Phelps railed against. We must love and pray for everyone, hoping that the grace Jesus offers will break through even the hardest hearts of the most entrenched sinners. And that includes Fred Phelps. And that includes me.
Celebrating someone’s death, hoping they are in hell, proposing to picket their funeral, even in jest—these are sinful attitudes that make us no different than the preacher we are deriding. Having this uncharitable attitude shows that we are actually following Phelps’ example.
Let us not be his disciples, but true disciples of Jesus. Let us pray that, in the end, even a hateful preacher might know God’s Divine Mercy.
Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis:
Requiescant in pace. Amen.