The message of Fred Phelps and his Westboro “Church” is abominable. May God have mercy on Fred Phelps.
I find no contradiction in those two statements. In fact, the very things that make me anathematize what Fred Phelps preached are precisely the things that make me hope He has found the grace of God which he so vehemently denied. I do not believe that, if Phelps believed what he preached until the moment he died, that God’s grace ever reached him. He preached an anti-Gospel that dragged the name of our Lord and Christ through the mud of human prejudice and vile hate. His group represented the gross underbelly of what man, unhinged from the stabilizing foundation of the Word of God, is capable of producing under the guise of religion. He picketed funerals and presumed to know the will of God in ways that far exceeded revelation and were contrary to God’s revealed character. I am distraught when I consider that a group would rejoice in the pinnacle of the curse on our world; that they would gloat over caskets rather than to weep; that they would celebrate what we all ought to mourn. Westboro’s message provides one of the best examples I know of perverting the Gospel of Christ.
That’s exactly why, right now, I hope that Fred Phelps is in Heaven. I hope and pray that God’s Word reached Fred Phelps before the hour was too late. I hope and pray that the grace which Phelps denied to so many reached him in the end. Many, I am sure, will be tempted to mentally gloat over this man’s casket. In response to the pall he has cast over our society in many of our darkest moments, I am confident that many will (understandably) seek to find light by mocking the tragedy of his death. You will not find what you’re looking for by holding up your “God Hates Fred Phelps and I Do Too” sign. You will find what you’re looking for, however, in the arms of the one who loves the vilest among us. Rewrite your sign: “God Loves Fred Phelps. Can You Believe He Loves Me Too?”
In seminary, Dr. Russell Moore told us that the thief on the cross’s family probably believed he was in Hell. They had no reason to believe that he ever repented or turned to God from his sins. However, indeed, on the day he died he was there with Jesus in paradise. We cannot presume that we know who God has been merciful to, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, up until the moment we die. What we can know, however, is that if Mr. Phelps put his faith in Jesus, then he will be there to welcome Billy Graham when the Lord calls him home.
I hate what Fred Phelps preached. I hate any message that seeks to deprive any class of people, any type of sinner, any sort of person from experiencing the grace of Jesus Christ through faith. I even hate the kind of message that seeks to put the vilest of false prophets outside the realm of God’s grace. I hate what Fred Phelps preached and that’s exactly why I hope he is in Heaven right now.