I read a fascinating pair of blog posts today, you can read them here
They revolved around the amazing story of Megan Phelps Roper and her sister Grace. You might not have heard of these sisters but I am pretty sure you have heard of their church and their activities. These sisters were until recently members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, the congregation notorious for “protesting” at military funerals in the States and for their rabid hate filled speech towards homosexuals and other christians. They in fact were much more than just members at Westboro. They are granddaughters of Fred Phelps, the “pastor” of the church and were prominent at the church’s demonstrations and even pioneered moving Wesboro’s mission of hatred on to social media. All of that was until recently, because incredibly and unexpectedly they have left the church, their family and their life of hate peddling behind it seems to seek a Christian faith characterised by grace not spite. These young women need our prayers, what they have done has taken tremendous courage for Westboro was more than their church, it was their life, their family and their purpose in life.
Stephen McCaskell highlighted their story on his blog under the title, “Westboro Baptist No More – A Story of Grace” Perhaps not surprisingly Grace and Megan’s father added his Westboro style venom in the comments section of the blog. His own daughters weren’t spared, according to their dad, the girls left because they were adulterers looking for sex not seekers looking for grace, truth and love. Timothy Phelps and several other commentators indulged in some verbal jousting about various bible passages and whose interpretation was right. They argued about whose “handle on the truth” was the more accurate. Then one commentator said something which for me was a killer,
David Skerritt wrote “My response is not about whether anyone here is in the right or in the wrong. There are plenty of “experts” here who can bloat until the cows come home. I am only on about method, and I can only look at Jesus. Well, I don’t remember any examples of Jesus adopting a nasty, high-handed, self-righteous manner. Clearly, Jesus was the perfect example of humility and empathy. What a shame so many Christians don’t adopt the manner of Jesus.”
I have heard this kind of debate many times in the past, whether its more important as a Christian to believe the right things or behave in the right way? To be doctrinally right or to act in a loving way. What David Skerritt’s comment reminded me of was that those options are a false dichotomy, we simply can’t choose between believing the right things about God and behaving in a way that reflects God. For you see as Christians we do not believe in some body of pure abstracted “truth,” we don’t believe in disembodied truth. What makes us Christian is that we believe truth is personal, truth for us is revealed embodied and expressed supremely in and through the life, actions, attitudes and words of Jesus. Jesus is “the way, the truth and life.”
All of which means, if “our truth” is not leading us to act like Jesus in how we treat others it is logically not “truth” in the Christian sense. If our understanding of the truth about Jesus isn’t causing us to behave in the manner of Jesus, we are neither believing the right things or being right in our understanding. That’s why no matter how many verses of the King Jimmy Bible Phelps and the people of Westboro quote as proof of their adherence to the “truth” and that their actions are “right” the painfully clear incongruity between their actions and the actions of Jesus reveal that they have never really understood the Truth, the one who is the Truth.
Timothy Phelps accuses his daughters of having betrayed the truth but his attitudes and actions and that of his church in reality reveal that the real betrayers of Christian truth, of the way of truth revealed in Jesus, is Westboro. Even the most casual reading of the Gospels confirms this, Jesus loved those that were perceived to be sinners, he didn’t spit hate filled speech at them. Jesus refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, what he didn’t do was join a mob in condemning her and then lead the disciples in an offensive protest at her funeral.
If we are talking about the truth, then there is another dimension to this, the truth is that my remarks above are cheap shots at Timothy Phelps and Wesboro Baptist. Its easy to take pot shots at them for the disparity between their claims to believe the truth of God and their failure to live in any meaningful sense in a way that is like the Son of God, who is as as we said the very incarnation of the Truth of God. They are an all too easy target. Its more painful to confess that the truth is that the gap between what I say I believe and how I behave is much more subtle, but that gap is as real and can be equally hypocritical and damaging to the cause of Christ. I know a lot about Christian “truth,” I talk, write and teach a lot about Christian truth but if that truth is not expressing itself in a “way” of life that, with increasingly clarity, echoes Jesus’ life then all my claims to understanding that truth are false. The ultimate sign of correct theological understanding is not a degree in theology but a life developing in Christlikeness.
So before I cast any more self righteous stones at Timothy Phelps I am spending some time pondering this little nugget of truth for a while, …. “If someone claims, “I know him well!” but doesn’t keep his commandments, he’s obviously a liar. His life doesn’t match his words. But the one who keeps God’s word is the person in whom we see God’s mature love. This is the only way to be sure we’re in God. Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived. 1 John 2: 4-6 The Message