Note: this is an excerpt from my new book, Finding Jesus. Available at this link
A few years ago, Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, died. Phelps and his church of about forty people—mostly family members—in Topeka, Kansas, specialized in publicity stunts. They protested at the funerals of fallen American service people, holding up signs that named the people they believed God hates. Even the name of their website is hateful: Godhatesfags.com (please don’t visit it). I read that when he died, Phelps had been excommunicated from the church he founded. I find that so ironic, and yet so fitting. This man founded a church based on hate, and ended up being chewed up and spit out by the same hateful machinery that he himself constructed.
It’s easy for me to judge someone like Fred Phelps. Truth is, the world doesn’t think of the love of Christ when they think of us, either. We have no excuse. A large portion of American evangelical Christianity has somehow decided that feeling anger and disgust over the sins of other people is the same thing as righteousness, and that denouncing unbelievers is the same thing as being a bold witness. Let’s be clear about something: The Bible never commands us to tell anyone that God hates them. We are not commanded to point out the sins of people who aren’t believers. We never see Jesus in the Gospels railing on the sinfulness of pagans, or Paul standing outside Greek theaters or bathhouses, telling them how foolish their choices are. Sometimes I see my Christian friends getting into intense arguments over morality with unbelievers. I find that baffling. Why are we getting angry when people who don’t believe the Bible act like people who don’t believe the Bible? Would we rather they pretend to share our values, even though they don’t know our Savior? What we ARE commanded to do, over and over again, is make disciples of Jesus Christ.
How do we do that? The same way Jesus did: By getting out of our pews and off our high-horses and investing ourselves in the lives of the people around us who don’t know Him. I read recently that here in America, 1 in 5 non-Christians doesn’t even know a single Christian. That ought to make us weep. So this week, write an encouraging note to someone. Invite someone to lunch. Ask someone if you can pray for them. And here’s a tip: Just because you assume that someone doesn’t need friends doesn’t make it so. In my experience in ministry, I have learned that some of the loneliest people are those who look like they have everything life can offer.