Everyone knows Fred Phelps and how idiotic he is, but one of the possibly surprising idiotic things about Phelps is his Biblical ignorance.
I am a very inquisitive person. Magic shows drive me crazy. I always want to figure out exactly how they did that. I love DVD special features that explain how things were made or filmed. (I have all three of the extended edition Lord of the Ring DVDs.) I am one of those people, when I see a Bible verse on a sign I look it up to see what it says.
I remember, when I was young and totally ignorant of the debate on gay marriage and homosexuality, I saw “the sign” that Phelps and his supporters so often carry around. You know the one, I am talking about.
I remember seeing a verse written underneath the hateful words, thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe that is true. Let me see the Bible verse that says that.” I got my Bible, looked up Romans 9:13 and found:
Just as it is written: Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.
I thought, “Well, that doesn’t really follow the sign’s message. Was Esau gay or something and I didn’t hear that part in Sunday School?” Nope, Esau was married to a woman (Genesis 28:8-9), well actually more than one woman, so I think it is safe to say Esau was not gay.
The only possible connection between the two is the idea that Phelps is trying to assure people that God does indeed hate people, “See, he hated Esau and although Esau wasn’t gay, that must mean that God can hate f@gs!”
Sorry, “Rev.” Phelps, but there is a little thing in Biblical exposition called “context” and we have to look at Bible verses in the context of what is around that specific verse and what the whole of the Bible has to say.
In Romans 9, Paul is discussing the issue of Jewish unbelief. He maintained in this passage and numerous other passages that one became a Jew, or child of God, not because of your family lineage, but because of your faith in God. He used Jacob and Esau as an example since they were twin brothers. One brother was to be the son of promise and would continue Isaac’s line that traces through the Jewish people eventually to Christ. The other brother would not.
Paul is quoting Malachi 1:9, which is clearing talking about God’s selection of the Jewish people as opposed to the Edomites (Esau’s descendents). The passage in both Malachi and Romans focuses on the grace and mercy of God in choosing Israel or Christians, not on his “hatred” for anyone.
Phelps seems to be woefully or purposefully ignorant of the vast majority of Scripture. I’m not sure what he does with 1 John 4:8:
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
(Which, can also be misinterpreted to say that God approves of everything in everyone. He loves us and wants the best for us, which means he disapproves of things that are not the best for us and Him.)
His biggest hurdle to jump is perhaps a passage that he probably loves to quote, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Now that sounds like a Fred Phelps special, but again context is the key. Read the next verse, v. 11:
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
The part I bolded is the key. There were people in the church at Corinth who had been, before they became a Christian, one or more of those things listed in verses 9 and 10. Tell me again, how God “washed” and “sanctified” and “justified” someone that he “hates.”
Earlier in Romans before Paul talks about Jacob and Esau, he makes God’s love clear to his reader. Romans 5:8:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Clearly, God loves us even when we are outside of His will. He still desires to make our relationship with Him right, regardless of where we are in our life. Right now, God wants to restore His relationship with Fred Phelps.
Even though Phelps harms God by polluting His message with Phelps’ hateful rhetoric and most likely keeps others from finding God’s love, God still wants Phelps to experience the love of Christ. Phelps own life is an example of the opposite of what he “preaches.” Despite the fact that hatred consumes Phelps, God loves him and wants him to know that and to show others.