Wednesday, October 12, 2011
God Doesn’t Hate Steve Jobs, and He Doesn’t Hate Fred Phelps Either.
I’ve read several reports and asides about the announcement that Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist crew intend to protest Steve Jobs funeral. Sadly, the fact that I have read several reports on this subject demonstrates my own, and our collective, failure to treat this issue as we should. This is a collision in which the call to love our neighbor collides with our duty to denounce false preachers. However, the two ends can both be achieved if we can take a deep breath and not allow the worst among us to select our actions.
Hate is a consuming, needy emotion which burns up all it can. Sustaining hate is not an easy task, one must continue to feed the fires and keep the emotions stoked or the hate dies away and is replaced with cold ashes. For this reason those who seek to spread hateful messages need new fuel, they cannot keep up their energy and their rhetoric unless they can keep up a supply of fresh outrage, opposition, and denunciation which they can turn around and use to fuel their hatred, justifying to themselves that they are being persecuted for their righteousness. Love, on the other hand, is a self sustaining and restoring emotion, which can grow back from even grievous wounds, Love can spread itself to others without taking, and does not have to consume what others have to offer to thrive, although it can grow stronger when shared. Both burn in our hearts, and if we rely upon a feeling of holy fire in our bosom to tell us we are doing right, we can be easily manipulated into acting from hate and claiming we are following the touch of God in our hearts.
In the case of these protestors, we as a society have allowed ourselves to make offerings to them, intended or not. We shower them with attention, with comment, and with scorn, heaping upon them offerings of fuel for their own hatred, keeping their fires of unrighteous wrath buring strong so that they can justify their zeal unendingly. We are failing our duty. We must realize that in so doing, we are making an offering unto the false lspirit which drives their anger, and we are in effect giving glory to their foul teachings. To avert this we must act from love, as Christ has taught us. We must feel sorrow and compassion for souls so lost that they could think their works are for God’s glory. We must offer them sympathy and compassion, not vitriol and confrontation. For the individuals whose funerals and events are directly protested, this will be very difficult, to show love when someone spews hate at some of the most solemn and emotional events of your lives. But if we can rise up and have enough faith to turn the other cheek, to forgive they who sin against us even seventy seven times, we will defeat the hatred without resorting to fighting our neighbor. Their manifestation of intolerance will consume what fuel it has and leave them spent, without the energy to keep hating. Just maybe, in their tired state, they may find their way back to the heart of Love.
However, we must not simply dismiss our duty as Christians to cast out false prophets and defend our churches from the teaching of false Christs, how do we reconcile this need? Quite simply, actually. We see repeatedly that the solution to false teachings in the early church is to grant the party a chance to atone, and if they refuse, remove them from the body of the church until they recant. If anyone should happen to still be in fellowship with Westboro Baptist, they should seek a new church, if your pastor supports the actions of these few angry individuals, speak to them about your concerns and ask them to reconsider, if they refuse, once again go and seek a better congregation. Once we have removed ourselves from fellowship with Westboro, it is not our Christian duty to silence them. Yes, they will say terrible things and reflect poorly on Christians, but we do not follow Christ out of a desire to be respected and glorified by men. Continue to live a life of humility, respect, inclusiveness, and charity, and let your deeds denounce the words of the false teachers. Others will be able to know the real Christians from the fruits of our labor. If we can step beyond our need to refute these actions, perhaps we can contribute to the media paying less attention to what they plan to do next, and help to accelerate a marginalization of their activities which will deprive them of other sources of fuel for their hatred.
In all honesty, I’m not sure if I am doing the most Christian thing I can do by writing this essay, perhaps I should have made it a more generic statement and so avoided giving further acknowledgement to the actions of Westboro. If I am at fault, I hope that I do not in my error lead any of my readers to greater anger or acts of intolerance, and that my stumbling may help inspire others to do better. Living a life of charity and humility is hard, and living in a world in which we are confronted by those taking active steps to spread anger, intolerance, and suffering only makes it harder. I pray that God can continue to hold me up, and to help me to try harder, to forgive a little more each day, and to accept that the life of compassion means giving up the desire to gain glory for the self by casting down the foes of God, and to trust that if I but love a little more, he will find a way to make it alright.