During Lent my church is thinking through The Lord’s Prayer. It has been very meaningful and thought-provoking. This week the focus was on “forgiving our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
It was Providential timing.
When I got home from church, I read in my newsfeed that Fred Phelps, Sr., the founder of Westboro Baptist, was near death. The man who has led his church in picketing the funerals of war veterans and LGBTQ events now faces the end of his life. Should we show up at HIS funeral with signs that say, “God hates Fred!”? Various punsters and commentators have made smart remarks suggesting this. And part of me, quite honestly, understands that sentiment. When people dump a world of hurt on others, it is really hard to be empathetic.
But then I remembered our study Sunday morning… And my daily Lenten reading included these words of Christ from Luke 6:
27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.
32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.
37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
Let’s be clear. I do not condone the actions of Rev. Phelps or the church he started. To me they are the antithesis of demonstrating the saving love and grace of God. Their words have hurt many families of veterans. They have been brutal in their verbal attacks on GLBQT individuals and groups. It is far too easy to condemn their actions. I ponder why it is, even with the Spirit of God living within us, that we can be so mean and evil to one another in the name of Christ.
So, if we were to demonstrate love to the Phelps family, what would it look like? Meals for the family? Donations in their name to a HIV clinic? A scholarship in Queer studies? Picketing with a sign that says, “For God so loved Fred that He gave His only son…”
I ponder these things, and consider the hurts that I have experienced from the words and actions of others. I am no better than Fred, if I am honest. I have been harassed. I have been hurt by the misogynist remarks of those who do have insulted my Call and ministry. And I have retaliated by angry, mean-spirited remarks and actions of my own. No, I haven’t picketed a funeral. But I’m still no better.
The question that God asks me is this: Would you go and be a chaplain to Fred?
Yes… I would, much as I would find it distasteful. Or I would try to, anyway. If they would not accept my ministry to them, I would find a quiet room for them to grieve privately and make funeral plans.
Martin Luther King is quoted as saying:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
As I reflected on this situation and read over the verses from Luke 6, I began to pray. It’s a simple prayer… but heart felt.
There’s a world full of darkness out there.
Lord, let me be Your Light…
Every secret, every shame, every fear, every pain
Live inside the dark
But that’s not who we are
We are children of the day
So wake up sleeper, lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows conquer death
Make the most of the time we have left
We are the Light of the world
We are the city on a hill
We are the Light of the world
We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the Light shine
We are called to the spread the news
Tell the world the simple truth
Jesus came to save, there’s freedom in His name
So let His Love break through…