"The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works. All Thy works shall give thanks unto Thee, O Lord; and Thy saints shall bless Thee." Psalm 145:8-9
This past Friday I saw listed in my television guide, a mention of the soon to be shown programme, portraying the return visit by Louis Theroux, to the Westboro Baptist Church of hate in Kansas. I wasn't planning to watch it, as at heart I feel that the more attention this tiny group of prideful damaged souls receives, the stronger the delusions become entrenched in their minds. (In addition I just didn't fancy a session of yelling at the screen with frustration at the madness and sadness of it all.) But like in many areas of life I failed to resist temptation and I ended up watching it today on the BBC iPlayer. (And yes yelling at the screen with frustration at the madness and sadness of it all.)
While it can almost go without saying that the Westboro Baptists' behaviour is diametrically opposed to that exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth who they claim to follow, and while I think that it is accurate to say that the entirety of the Christian world rejects both them and their hatred, it can't be ignored that everything they do is rooted in Christian theology.
The fashion these days by some, is to pretend that the word's great faiths are sweet and lovely and that abhorrent behaviour by any of their followers is simply the work of people hijacking religion, sometimes denying wholesale the scriptural or theological roots of those whose expression of faith is less than agreeable. This, in addition to being a dishonest and unhelpful approach, only strengthens the equally false arguments of those who argue that religion is only a force for untruth, obscurantism and evil, whose apologists have no recourse but to resort to denial.
The Westboro Baptist church's theology is deeply rooted in an uncompromising form of Calvinism. I must stress, all other Calvinists reject Fred Phelps' church and want nothing to do with it. Their theological beliefs do not lead them to behave in the immoral and cruel way that Westboro do, and no negative judgements can be made of contemporary Calvinists as a result of the preaching or actions of the above named Kansas cult. But the reality is that Calvin's Five Points influence all that this hate-promoting church thinks and does.
This fact reminded me of something I once read in the writings of the 19th century Unitarian William Ellery Channing, himself brought up in a Calvinistic home, in his essay on Unitarian Christianity 1819.
"Now, we object to the systems of religion, which prevail among us, that they are adverse, in a greater or less degree, to these purifying, comforting, and honourable views of God; that they take from us our Father in heaven, and substitute for him a being, whom we cannot love if we would, and whom we ought not to love if we could.... This system indeed takes various shapes, but in all it casts dishonour on the Creator. According to its old and genuine form, it teaches, that God brings us into life wholly depraved, so that under the innocent features of our childhood is hidden a nature averse to all good and propense to all evil, a nature which exposes us to God's displeasure and wrath, even before we have acquired power to understand our duties, or to reflect upon our actions. According to a more modern exposition, it teaches, that we came from the hands of our Maker with such a constitution, and are placed under such influences and circumstances, as to render certain and infallible the total depravity of every human being, from the first moment of his moral agency; and it also teaches, that the offence of the child, who brings into life this ceaseless tendency to unmingled crime, exposes him to the sentence of everlasting damnation. Now, according to the plainest principles of morality, we maintain, that a natural constitution of the mind, unfailingly disposing it to evil and to evil alone, would absolve it from guilt; that to give existence under this condition would argue unspeakable cruelty; and that to punish the sin of this unhappily constituted child with endless ruin, would be a wrong unparalleled by the most merciless despotism.
This system also teaches, that God selects from this corrupt mass a number to be saved, and plucks them, by a special influence, from the common ruin; that the rest of mankind, though left without that special grace which their conversion requires, are commanded to repent, under penalty of aggravated woe; and that forgiveness is promised them, on terms which their very constitution infallibly disposes them to reject, and in rejecting which they awfully enhance the punishments of hell. These proffers of forgiveness and exhortations of amendment, to beings born under a blighting curse, fill our minds with a horror which we want words to express".
Whether or not you agree with his characterisation of and conclusions about Calvinistic theology in the next part of his essay I am certain that many will see in it a description of the Westboro Baptist Church in all but name:
"That this religious system does not produce all the effects on character, which might be anticipated, we most joyfully admit. It is often, very often, counteracted by nature, conscience, common sense, by the general strain of Scripture, by the mild example and precepts of Christ, and by the many positive declarations of God's universal kindness and perfect equity. But still we think that we see its unhappy influence. It tends to discourage the timid, to give excuses to the bad, to feed the vanity of the fanatical, and to offer shelter to the bad feelings of the malignant. By shocking, as it does, the fundamental principles of morality, and by exhibiting a severe and partial Deity, it tends strongly to pervert the moral faculty, to form a gloomy, forbidding, and servile religion, and to lead men to substitute censoriousness, bitterness, and persecution, for a tender and impartial charity. We think, too, that this system, which begins with degrading human nature, may be expected to end in pride; for pride grows out of a consciousness of high distinctions, however obtained, and no distinction is so great as that which is made between the elected and abandoned of God."
This miniscule congregation thrives on attention and opposition. Every time good people organise counter demonstrations to their desecration of funerals or to their other outrages, it only serves to further their belief in themselves as the persecuted elect of God. The best thing that can be done is to completely ignore them, no TV documentaries, no appearances on radio, no counter demonstrations, no hate-mail, simply nothing! Perhaps without the oxygen of opposition they will simply fade away and disintegrate, thereby sparing themselves and those that they harass from further pain.
How can one find the time to list the many many verses in the Bible that explicitly contradict the teachings of the "God Hates You"? However I will list a few of my favourites:
"And the Lord said, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city; wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand." Jonah 10-11
"The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life...Hatred stirreth up strifes: But love convereth all transgressions". Proverbs 10:12
"The Lord is full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" Psalm 103:8
"Judge not lest you be judged" Matthew 7:1
"Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold there was carried out one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow...and when the lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, "weep not". Luke 7:12-13
"He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love" 1 John 4:8
I leave the last words of this post to William Ellery Channing:
"To give our views of God in one word, we believe in his Parental character. We ascribe to him, not only the name, but the dispositions and principles of a father. We believe that he has a father's concern for his creatures, a father's desire for their improvement, a father's equity in proportioning his commands to their powers, a father's joy in their progress, a father's readiness to receive the penitent, and a father's justice for the incorrigible. We look upon this world as a place of education, in which he is training men by prosperity and adversity, by aids and obstructions, by conflicts of reason and passion, by motives to duty and temptations to sin, by a various discipline suited to free and moral beings, for union with himself, and for a sublime and ever-growing virtue in heaven."