This is where it gets hard to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies. Most of us would love to have a chance to picket old Fred's funeral and get the word out that God loves everyone, not just people who Fred approves. That, however, would not be a loving way to behave. And my leader, Jesus, calls me to love outside my circle of family and friends (everyone does that!) and to go the extra mile and love my enemies. And Jesus makes it clear that love is not an emotion; love is an action. In this case love is restraining oneself from doing an unloving action. Love is recognizing that in spite of the terrible person Fred Phelps seemed to be, he mattered to some people. He will be missed and perhaps even mourned by those people.
And though it's hard to swallow, God loves Fred Phelps. God who looks upon the hearts of the people knows why this man who was once a civil rights lawyer became a hatemonger who believed he honored God by preaching hate. In 1999 Phelps responded to criticism from Jerry Falwell in the L.A. Times, saying, "He's saying I preach hate? You can't preach the Bible without preaching hate! Looky here, the hatred of God is an attribute of the Almighty," he said. "It means he's determined to punish the wicked for their sins!"
Today I imagine Fred standing in front of God Almighty and feeling God's immense love enfolding him. I admit that I wish that he will have great regret for the life he lived before he feels that peace which passes all understanding. He has misrepresented Christians everywhere but, in the end, I want to follow Jesus closely enough to hope that he will find peace.
I love the Lord and I know that he is loving Fred, forgiving Fred, and healing Fred. So with no feelings of love toward Fred Phelps I write this, hoping that we who know God to be loving and forgiving can let old Fred go without any retribution. If I hate and renounce Fred and consign him to hell I am simply being Fred on a different campaign. So rest in peace Fred. I won't be picketing your funeral or spitting on your grave. God will handle you; I don't have to.
I don't know how to teach kids to love their enemies but I know that part of my understanding of this concept comes from understanding these two basic precepts:
- Love is an action, not a feeling.
- Vengence belongs to God.
I think it's important to learn and teach this. It makes for a far more peaceful life. Hate consumes and love nourishes. Why not choose love?