How Am I Supposed to Feel about Fred Phelps’ Death?

by Dave Miller on March 16, 2014 · 27 comments

Just read, as you probably have, that Fred Phelps is very near death. His family is at odds, and there is word that even Fred himself was excommunicated from his own “church” a few months ago. He is hovering on the brink of eternity and the church he founded will likely pass into the hands of one of his progeny, perhaps his daughter. Fred will be gone soon.

I don’t know how I should feel about this.

How am I supposed to feel when Saddam is hanged or bin Laden takes a bullet? When great evil passes from this world there is a natural sigh of relief, a sense that the world is a better place. And the world would be a better place without the Westboro Cult (I’ve joined Marty Duren’s suggestion that we NOT call them either Baptist or a church – they are neither). I hope that the cult falls apart when its leader is gone and that it is no longer able to do evil.

But ought Christians ever rejoice when a lost man (it is hard to see Fred Phelps as a brother in Christ – that judgment is not mine) dies? There is a dysfunctional family, a lot of grief and pain, and even more bad publicity for the church – since there are always those who try to tie us to his cult. We are told to LOVE our enemies (as a Baptist preacher, I certainly consider him an enemy) and return good for evil. It is hard to believe that gloating over his death would fit into those parameters.

So, I feel conflicted. Honestly, a part of me is relieved that he will no longer be here and that the evil he has done will soon pass away. Another part of me believes that a follower of Jesus ought not to see the passing of an evil man as a good thing.

So, I guess right now all I can do is leave Fred Phelps in the hands of a just God, pray that his evil will come to nothing, that his family will find healing from the lies he taught them and the bitterness he instilled in them and keep wondering how I should feel in times like this.

 

 

1 Andrew Green March 16, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Dave; my standard when an evil man die let us be saddened by the fact the person rejected Christ in this life and let us rest in the fact that Gods righteous judgment will be carried out

2 D. L. Payton March 16, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Dave

I share the conflict. I agree it is not an occasion to gloat, nor should we be happy that anyone will spend eternity in hell.

However, I am not sure that it is wrong for a Christian to not see the passing of such an evil man as good.

If I am wrong I am willing to be instructed.

3 D. L. Payton March 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Oops Take out the last “not”

4 Tarheel March 16, 2014 at 8:43 pm

I feel conflicted too…

But I fear that we’ve seen nothing yet from this cult…his daughter seems, if its possible, to be even a more a special kind of crazy than he is/was.

5 Dave Miller March 16, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Yes, I’ve noticed that.

6 Dan Barnes March 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm

I met the man once. Well, I met his sign as he brought it down on me. I was at the University of Wyoming after a tragedy he made worse. I prayer for him, no one filled with that much hate can’t be happy or joyful or at peace. I can’t imagine his eternity will be much better. I feel sorry for a group so trapped in sin, hatred and darkness.

7 Dan Barnes March 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Prayed for him, crazy phone.

8 Christiane March 16, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Our Lord Himself helps us with our difficulty in this teaching:

“9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

13 But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying,
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’ ”

(from the Gospel of St. Luke 18:10-14)

9 Christiane March 16, 2014 at 10:15 pm

I wish we knew what Our Lord had written in the sand, just before He told the men seeking to stone the adulterous woman ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’

the men were justified in their contempt for the woman according to the Law, and Our Lord did not deny that;
but He wrote something down and when those men read what Our Lord had written, not only did they put their stones down, but they walked away sadly . . .

some think He wrote what the men themselves had done in the way of sin . . . but we don’t know . . . we just know He helped them, and having helped them understand ‘how it was’, then He helped the woman herself

Our Lord changes the old equation. He puts things into a different light for us. He offers us a way to become detached from our pride.

10 Bob Cleveland March 16, 2014 at 11:22 pm

The principle was mentioned in SS class, albeit not about Fred Phelps. The idea was: how much of life is a test, for the Christian? The answer was “all of it”.

I think God is interested in our reaction to everything. And we can’t use the scapegoat of how Jesus would react. We’re not Him.

I feel toward Mr. Phelps just as I did when I woke one morning and heard on the Today Show that Gary Gilmore had been executed (which ended the moratorium on capital punishment, back in the 70′s). It’s just sad. Just as it was when they picketed the SBC Annual Meeting, and when they picketed soldiers’ funerals.

11 Christiane March 17, 2014 at 3:00 am

“This thought should keep us humble: we are sinners, but we do not know how great. He alone knows Who died for our sins.”
(John Henry Newman)

12 Dustin Lair March 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

Dave

Thanks for the article and I can totally relate to the conflict that you’re feeling. The bible only seems to add to this tension. On one hand God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.(Ezekiel 18:23) On the other hand there is a sense where we will tread on the wicked.(Malachi 4:3)

I hope that he has had a change of heart and that is why he was excommunicated from his church. What an awesome display of God’s grace that would be. I hope to see him in heaven.

At the same time I don’t mind his death very much at all. I think all too often we have an underdeveloped sense of justice, hence our struggles with Hell. Jesus told His disciples that the man who harms a child should be drowned. Our anger, frustration, towards people like Fred Phelps is real and should be expressed. I work with a couple of bail bondsmen that understand justice so much more than me. They see the ugliness of humans and the pain of sin up close and personal every day. They’re not afraid to call down curses on people that are evil. I think they might be more biblical than the ones that want to play nicey nice with evil all of the time. Fred Phelps is a monster.

Today I’ll pray that the monster turns to Jesus from his sins and basks in God’s grace. I won’t tread on his grave, but I won’t be too upset over it either. I’m more upset about his life.

13 Tim Rogers (@Timothy_Rogers) March 17, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Dave,

I believe Jonathan Falwell has presented the best advice on this. Here is what he Tweeted earlier today.

?@jonathanfalwell

To Christians celebrating Fred Phelps’ death: despite how despicable his actions (he picketed dad’s funeral too) he still has a family.

14 Dave Miller March 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Yep.

15 Jim Hedrick March 17, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Can we not all pray…….God please have mercy on this son of Adam. Do not give Him what he (we) deserve………..sin is ugliness……….Dear God save Fred Phelps from his misdirected anger. Slay his sinful heart with your splendid sovereign grace. In Jesus name Amen.

16 D. L. Payton March 17, 2014 at 4:15 pm

My prayer would be that some how and in some way God might receive glory from all the events of this issue.

17 Jim Pemberton March 18, 2014 at 11:16 am

Feel? Feelings are unreliable. It’s better to focus on how we should think about this:

At his death, Fred (and anyone else for that matter) will be in God’s hands and there is no better place for him to be; for God is both a righteous and a gracious judge, he is both loving and full of wrath. Whatever happens to Fred at that point is good. Inasmuch as Fred is worthy of condemnation, we should make every effort to disciple people not to be that way. Inasmuch as Fred should have acted rightly about God, we should instruct people to live that way. At all costs we should implore people to have faith in God and not in themselves or anything else.

18 Dave Miller March 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I think it is kinda silly to pretend that feelings have no part in the human makeup. I think. I feel. I’m not a robot.

19 Jim Pemberton March 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Of course feelings have a part in the human makeup, but they should be subject to God’s revelation rather than determining how we understand it. The way we make our feelings subject to God’s revelation is by submitting our minds to his truth despite how we feel. Ideally, over time our feelings will become conditioned to be aligned with truth. Therefore, the solution to how we should feel about things is to focus on how we should think about things.

20 D. L. Payton March 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Jim/Dave

I would think that both statements are true. Feelings are unreliable however they are very much a part of who we are.

21 Tarheel March 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Yes, feelings and thoughts are part of us…but they are to brought into captivity so as to obey Christ.

2 Cor. 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

What Jim has said is absolutely right, What Dave has said is absolutely right – they are not in conflict.

Sure we have feelings and natural thoughts about things…but when those thoughts and feelings are not in keeping with the new life in which we walk…we must cast them down, and captivate (control) every one of them…so that we may obey Christ.

22 D. L. Payton March 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Tarheel

VERY well said

“Who was that masked man”

23 Tarheel March 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally. ;-)

24 Jim Pemberton March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Indeed, well said.

25 Christiane March 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm

First reaction, we may gloat at the downfall of a perceived villain.
Then due to some gift of sacred grace, we stop gloating and are made strangely uncomfortable,
and we examine our own selves and our own reactions;
then we have cause to cautiously approach Christian hope for someone Our Lord Himself would see as in need of a Physician . . .

all kinds of ‘healing’ are possible in circumstances like this, even our own

26 Dave Miller March 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Fred Phelps has died.

Interested in reports that he may have tired of the vitriol in later days and been excommunicated for it. Wish I knew.

27 Tarheel March 22, 2014 at 10:04 am

Dr. Al Mohler, as usual, offers important and necessary perspective.

http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/03/21/fred-phelps-and-the-anti-gospel-of-hate-a-necessary-word/

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