A Prayer for the World’s Greatest Sodomite

Screenshot from 'Fall From Grace'

Screenshot from ‘Fall From Grace

Note: You have to read to the end to “get” this post. Sorry to you skimmers!

In Genesis 19, God decides to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Long before two male angels are threatened with gang-rape by a mob of men, God decides to destroy the two cities. Long before “sodomite” became synonymous with homosexuality, God declared that Sodom was inhospitable to strangers and was full of selfish bigoted people. The prophet Ezekiel tells us precisely why Sodom was destroyed:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

Ezekiel 16:49-50

To be a Sodomite, then, is to be inhospitable. A Sodomite is not a homosexual; rather, a Sodomite is not hospitable (even violent!) to those who are different. To be a Sodomite is to believe it is okay to marginalize those who are different from you.

Let me tell you about the world’s greatest Sodomite.

It is in the news today that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and the “God Hates F***” movement, is perhaps in his final days (update 3/20/14 – he passed away) and has been excommunicated by his own church, according to one of his sons:

The younger Phelps, one of several members of the family to have parted ways with the church, also said his father was excommunicated by his own church last August, but did not say for what reason.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this,” he said. “Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.”

Let me tell you about this inhospitable Sodomite.

The entire first chapter of Romans could be written about Fred Phelps.

Let’s keep going. The condemnation concludes in Romans 2:1-5.

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Uh, what?

Oh, maybe I wasn’t being clear above. Sorry.

My prayer isn’t for Fred Phelps.

My prayer is for the greatest Sodomite, the one most inhospitable to others.

My prayer is likely for me.

Because all of what Paul says in Romans 2:1-5 is applicable to me when I consider Fred Phelps:

You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

As a Christian pastor, I am haunted by Romans 2.

  • I know I have a hard heart towards Fred Phelps.
  • I cannot stand that I share a title with him: Pastor.
  • I cannot stand that Phelps represents Christianity to so many people, including children and youth.
  • I hate that my friends, neighbors, youth and young adults have been done harm and been brought to self-harm by this “Christian.”
  • I am grieved that I choose to use “quotes” around his title of “Christian.”
  • I don’t believe that Phelps knows the same God that I know.

And in saying all of that, I might be the world’s greatest Sodomite because I am so completely inhospitable towards Phelps that I am denying him his full humanity just as he denied so many of their humanity.

I know in my head that God loves Fred Phelps and grieves at his wasted life twisted by hate more than I do. But if I know in my heart that I feel relief at imagining a world without the Westboro Baptist Church..If I hold judgment in my heart, my God is as small as the god Phelps proclaims. 

If I have a hard time imagining “picketing Phelps’ imminent funeral with love” or “offering the Phelps family privacy to grieve” then I cannot offer the hospitality in my heart that God requires of me.

The greatest sodomite might be Fred Phelps.
…It might be me.
……It might be you, dear reader.

Whoever it is, here’s my prayer:

Before we die, may we all know a bigger God whose love is larger than we think possible.

May we know a bigger God than we know today and have our lives reflect God’s great love.

And may we make the world a better place where all are welcomed, differences are celebrated, and hatefulness reigns no more.

====

Note to the reader: This post uses an identical argument style as Paul uses in Romans 1-2, which erroneously has been used to condemn homosexuality. In Romans 1, we get comfortable in our perceived position against the sinner as Paul lambasts the “other.” And yet Romans 2 forces the reader to look in a mirror and see how they are sinning themselves by judging (perhaps sinning the most!). Instead of breathing a sigh of relief at the possibility of Phelps’ church being gone, take this as an opportunity to think on our own missteps and perpetual shortcomings, and to seek peace in all things.
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Comments

  1. Tim says

    This is one of the most thought provoking things I have read in a long time. Thank you for your words. My Sunday School class will be discussing a “current event” next week, and I believe I’m going to use that opportunity to share your words and discuss the type of response we, the Church, have at a time like this.

  2. Chris Reynolds says

    Amen. This post beautifully crystallizes my scattered and inconsistent thinking about Phelps and Westboro. Thanks so much for writing it and reminding us all what being a Christian actually requires of us.

  3. Jeni Markham Clewell says

    Jeremy, this is the best thing I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of words in my long life. Thank you for listening to your open heart and putting these words into the world for us. You are a blessing and the Spirit lives deeply in you.

  4. Laura Farley says

    Wow, one the best if not the best thing you’ve written. Just the other day I chided my husband for saying some awful things about Phelps when he heard that he was on his death bed. Of course I suppose that in turn made me a judge.

  5. Julie A. Arms Meeks says

    Well said, Jeremy, well said. I hate to put myself in the same category as him, knowing what I have felt when in the presence of the WBC. But, we will all have to answer for our lives. I only hope no one ever feels hate radiating from me.

  6. says

    I sense that we must love Mr Phelps and forgive him and show him the forgiveness he refused to show LGBT people. I sense we must pray that he may be reconciked with the estranged children and that not a single person picket or protest at his funeral. I am confident that when he goes home the Lord will say – Fred you were so wrong about me and my LGBT children.

  7. says

    First, I didn’t know Baptists had ex-communication; it sound like a red herring to me.

    Second, wishful thinking that there will be no public demo when the SOB dies. People can make their own decisions for this event, I have other ideas. There’s no excuse for the harm he committed that he says was in the name of religion. So how do the goody-goody forgivers square their religious POV with the Phelps family view? Don’t forget his equally scuzzy daughter is still very much with us. It’s always a lot of fun to read and see the righteous try to put the square peg in the round hole.

    • Daween says

      They win. Their mission is to spread hate and it obviously works. Just look at the hate that just came from you.

  8. Daween says

    I’ve never liked the things this man and his followers have done. I’ve found their actions to be repulsive,but my question has always been,” What happened to this man to bring so much hate to him?” They should be pitied not hated. Karma is now striking back at Fred Phelps for all those he has wronged. He has been shunned by the monsters he created. I think any true Christian and anyone with a pure heart will be praying for God to have mercy on his sole and allow him to find the happiness in death that he could not find in life.

  9. CJ says

    I wrote an article like this several years ago but I have to say that yours is way better. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to face about being a Christian and it’s probably what started me on the path to ministry. Still though, I have a hard time being patient with people in the moment and this article helped remind me that I still need to work on that. Thanks.

  10. Jeff Fujimoto says

    Jeremy, could you elaborate on what we should do? You have a good case for what is, and it’s intriguing, but the call to action seems too vague.

  11. Ric Shewell says

    Dammit, Jeremy. I did not come here expecting God’s word to speak to me so deeply. Thank you for your ministry.

  12. Erika says

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
    and rightdoing there is a field.
    I’ll meet you there…”

    ― Rumi

    A part of me relished the idea of having picketers at his funeral. But I soon realized that that would be doing exactly what they did, their actions should never dictating mine. No thanks. There but the grace of God go I. My God’s love is vast and unending. I will pray for him and pray he finds peace and love on the other side.

  13. Karen jones says

    Yes, Mr. Nimmo, I’m not sure about Baptist excommunication, but the United Methodist Church absolutely excommunicates it’s pastors for presiding at a gay marriage ceremony…Google it! I have left the UMC for this reason. Neither my pastor, the regional person, nor our bishop responded to my letter of resignation and protest. Hmmm… Wonder why there are so many “nones” today? I was baptized a Methodist at the age of 8 months….68 years ago. This was not a simple decision. This piece helps me cement my feelings. Thanks to the author!

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