In the interests of full, candid disclosure, this is by no means a eulogy. Nevertheless, it is not my intention to heap scorn or contempt either. To whit:
Fred Phelps was a vicious man who terrorized his family, neighbors, and the families of grieving veterans. He did this in the guise of the pastoral office and founded a cult who propagated his twisted, aberrant views. Ostensibly, Phelps claimed to preach the Gospel. His own words and deeds bewrayed the truth: Phelps was a monger of fear and hatred without any genuine interest in the souls of men.
After reportedly being excommunicated from his church, he met the end appointed to all men. He now has no more to do with us mortal men. He has stepped into eternity and stands before the One whose eyes are a flame of fire. The same One whom Phelps claimed, falsely, to represent. The same One whose Name Phelps blithely used to victimize people, inducing them to rail and blaspheme God. Of Phelps, it can rightly be said, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” [Romans 2:24]
There are many who want to celebrate the passing of this man and feel a sense of vindication and relief. It is true that this man can no longer victimize people in the name of the Gospel and one would rightly feel relieved at that prospect. He can no longer misrepresent Christ and His Church. He can no longer peddle poison in the place of the water of life. No longer will Phelps claim to offer bread only to hold out a stone. No longer will he offer an egg and we find a serpent from his hand instead.
Nevertheless, there is also a cause for much sorrow. This man left a wake of misery in his path. Phelps’ creation, the falsely-called church in Topeka, will likely continue on in some hideous variation for many years or even decades to come. Preaching a gospel that is not the Gospel. Offering serpents for eggs. Stones for bread. Poison for water.
And herein lies the manifest tragedy of it all: Phelps could have done so much praiseworthy and honorable had he been an earnest and sincere Gospel minister. Sadly, there was no Gospel in his message. Only hate and fear. There was no free offer of Christ and Him crucified for sinful men. Only vitriolic rage.
Ultimately, he will now have to deal with the One who trieth the hearts and reins of men. Whatever his disposition was when he met his end, we cannot peer into. What we can do is do him and his family the dignity they never offered anyone else and resist the urge to clap our hands and applaud the end of his earthly sojourn. We can also use this as an opportunity to speak to our friends and neighbors about the genuine Gospel.