June 2003 Issue
Stark Differences Between
Southern Baptists and Fred Phelps
by Michael Foust
Kansas pastor Terry Fox was in
the backseat of a taxi, on his way to a Southern Baptist Convention
meeting, when a group of protesters caught the cab driver's attention.
"I didn't ever think I'd see the day when Southern Baptists
were called liberal," the taxi driver told Fox.
The protesters, holding large signs proclaiming "God Hates
Fags," were protesting the Southern Baptist Convention. They
were just a few blocks from the meeting hall, but light years
from the SBC's beliefs and practices.
"I love to tell people that he's the only guy I know of
that calls Southern Baptists liberal," said Fox, pastor of
Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan.
The group of protesters was from Westboro Baptist Church in
Topeka, Kan., a small non-Southern Baptist church headed by Fred
Phelps Sr., a seventy-three-year-old man who claims he was sent
by God to tell America about God's hatred of those he calls "fags."
In the last twelve years, he and his family have traveled the
country, conducting some 22,000 pickets. They've published books.
They've set up websites (godhatesfags.com, godhatesamerica.com).
Most of their material focuses on Phelps' belief that homosexuals
cannot be saved, should be executed, and that God has turned His
back on America. Two recent tragedies the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
were judgments sent from God, Phelps asserts.
Because of Phelps' prominence, and because he's in Kansas,
Fox has had to set the record straight many times: Phelps is not
a Southern Baptist; he's far from it.
"I'm quick to tell [people] that he has picketed our churches
and our convention," Fox said.
Phelps receives plenty of media attention wherever he pickets,
and his website is constantly updated with links to new stories
mentioning him and his church. The total number of stories since
December: more than 200.
He's so prominent that the local newspaper in Topeka once published
a special section about Phelps, which is still available on the
paper's website under the banner, "Loving God's Hate: an
in-depth look at Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church."
In 1999, George magazine named him number five in a list
of the "Twenty Most Fascinating Men in Politics."
Because Phelps' church claims the name "Baptist,"
he and Southern Baptists sometimes get lumped together, Fox said.
"Most media members don't know the difference between"
the different types of Baptists, Fox said. "It's imperative
that we tell people that he is not a part of who were are."
For his part, Phelps claims that Southern Baptists are involved
in "kissy-pooh" preaching infatuated with God's love.
He has picketed Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings, Southern
Baptist churches, and the SBC Building in downtown Nashville (twice
already in 2003).
He has even picketed funerals, including the one of Matthew
Shepard, the homosexual college student who was beaten to death
in Wyoming five years ago. Phelps' website has a ticker counting
the number of days Shepard "has been in hell." The reason
for the pickets: He wanted to warn those at the funeral about
Phelps views himself as doing the work of a modern-day prophet
telling Americans what he believes God wants them to hear,
whether they like it or not.
According to Phelps' website, God doesn't have much use for
preachers who proclaim God's love to everyone. "You are going
to Hell!" the website exclaims. "Period! End of discussion!
God's decree sending you to Hell is irreversible! Hypocrites!
How can ye escape the damnation of Hell?!"
"That's Bible preaching," he told Baptist Press.
A disbarred lawyer, Phelps and his family began picketing in
Topeka roughly twelve years ago. What began as a city venture
became regional and then national, growing yearly. Today, he says
he and his church spend some $250,000 a year on airline tickets
alone. One of their most recent pickets was on the steps of the
U.S. Supreme Court, during which justices heard a sodomy case.
"The people in our church work," he said. "They've
got good jobs and they pay it. We will not accept donations. When
people send us money, we return it with a form letter."
To say that his views are on the fringe of evangelical belief
would be an understatement. He doesn't believe the sin of homosexuality
is forgivable. Thus, he doesn't believe that homosexuals can be
"No, I don't think that homosexuals can be saved,"
Phelps said. He pointed to Romans 1, where he says homosexuals
have "been given up by God."
"... It's the only sin that by definition the adherents
are proud of. You've never heard of an adulterous pride parade.
You've never heard of anybody boasting and bragging about their
Interestingly, Phelps says that he'd "be glad if they
all get saved," although he doesn't believe it's possible.
Questioned about Christians who have come out of the homosexual
lifestyle, Phelps said he has yet to see a solid example.
"I'm still waiting to see one," he said.
Then there's the death penalty for homosexuals. Phelps is for
it although not by stoning. He once sent letters to every
member of Congress as well as every United Nations leader
telling them that capital punishment for homosexuals was
the first step toward worldwide repentance.
"We [would] do it by lethal injection and other more human
so-called means," he said. "But however this or that
state does it, every last state ought to make it a crime and assess
the penalty for it at death."
Has Phelps ever wondered if he does more harm than good?
"Not one time," he said, laughing. "Never. That's
what the fags like to preach and talk about, but they are confused.
They say that I am helping them more than anybody in the United
States. But why do they assault us?"
Others, though, disagree.
"Southern Baptists ought to take it as a badge of honor
that he would boycott [us]," said Phil Roberts, president
of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
"The gay and lesbian community needs to realize the difference
in attitude and ministry between Southern Baptists and people
like Mr. Phelps."
What Does the Bible Say?
Phelps derives much of his beliefs from verses like Psalm 5:5,
which reads, The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity.
"You tell [people] that God loves everybody?" Phelps
asked. "You're lying on God."
But two Midwestern Seminary Old Testament professors said that
Psalm 5:5 and other similar verses must be viewed
in context with the rest of Scripture. Christians serve a God
of both justice and wrath and of love, grace, and mercy, they
"The tendency today is for people to focus very heavily
on the love of God in the New Testament or the wrath of God in
the Old Testament," professor Gary Smith said. "But
I see them equally balanced in both Testaments. There are literally
hundreds of verses in the New Testament about God's wrath. Try
reading the first few chapters of Romans. There are all kinds
of verses about God's love, grace and compassion, mercy and forgiveness
[also] in the Old Testament.
"The difficulty we have is keeping those in balance. To
me, it's just ridiculous to say that God doesn't love the homosexual."
But verses like Psalm 5:5 should not be swept under the rug,
the Midwestern professors say. In a sense, God exhibits both righteous
hatred and love toward unrepentant sinners, while at the same
time desiring for them to repent and believe, professor Albert
"I think that's true particularly if it's a sinner
who is stiff-necked, hard-headed in his or her sin," Bean
said. "That's when the judgment of God is really loosed
whether we're talking about the corporate level or the individual
Bean said there are many cases in the Bible where "God
effectively says, 'You have chosen to go that way, and that's
not the way I want you to go, but you will suffer consequences
for it.' That's certainly a part of His hatred of sin."
Said Smith: "I don't think it's too surprising to say
that God would hate evil people. But what He's hating is the sinfulness
of the evil people. You can make a case that God hates the sinful
homosexual, God hates the murderer."
Smith pointed out that Psalm 5 speaks of other sins, including
two that would cover most people: boastfulness and the speaking
"I don't think you can say that one has the priority over
the other," he said.
Bean agreed. "[Psalm 5:5] is a reminder to the congregation
... that God is not on the side of the doers of evil. The strongest
way to put that is to use the word 'hate.'
"So much of the 'God hate' language is in opposition to
the proud, which would certainly address any of us who think that
we are righteous in some way," he said. "There definitely
has to be a balance there."
God's immense love, though, must be part of one's overall interpretation
of Scripture, the two professors said. It is, then, still biblical
to tell a homosexual, "God loves you."
Phelps' critics point to a host of verses testifying of God's
love: 1 John 4:8 (God is love ...), 1 John 4:11 (Beloved,
if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another ...),
and John 3:16 (For God so loved the world ...).
"All of us were unworthy and were loved while we were
sinners," Smith said, paraphrasing Romans 5:8. "I would
say, yes, God has a love for any sinner."
This concept can be seen, Smith said, in 1 Timothy 2:3-4: This
is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires
all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
God is the ultimate judge, Smith added.
"This is something that is in the heart of the person
and the mind of God," he said. "It's not for us to judge.
To me, the proof is quite simple. There have been homosexual people
who have come to Christ. It's obvious that this is not some unpardonable
sin that makes it impossible for people to come back to Christ."
The nation of Israel is a great example of the balance between
God's love and justice, Smith said.
"Eventually, He had to go to the lengths of destroying
the nation many people dying and going into exile
because of their rebellious sinfulness," he said. "But
the text the way I read it indicates that He still
Can Homosexuals Be Saved?
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 presents a problem for Phelps' beliefs,
his critics say. There, the apostle Paul is writing the church
at Corinth and listing a series of people including homosexuals,
idolaters, and adulterers that will not inherit the
kingdom of God. Paul then writes, 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
Said Midwestern's Bean: "God has not said, 'These sins
are the big ones and you can't be saved.'"
Phelps, though, said the passage is not referring to what he
"I don't say that everybody who's ever had a rare, sporadic,
or occasional experience that they were ashamed of, that
they somehow got trapped into it as part of their loose living
I don't say that every one of them is in that category,"
he said. "What I'm saying is that those that are what they
call 'in the life' [cannot be saved]."
But the executive director of Exodus International a
Christian organization for former homosexuals says Scripture
is on his side.
"It's 2,000-year-old evidence that God is in the healing
business," said Alan Chambers, himself a former homosexual.
"Right among those people that He healed were homosexuals."
Chambers became involved in the homosexual lifestyle as an
eighteen-year-old before a church began reaching out to him. He
has been married for five years.
"God didn't create me this way and He didn't want me to
live this way," Chambers said, referring to his former lifestyle.
"I found a wonderful congregation that showed me God's love."
Chambers quoted 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow about
his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,
not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Ironically, Phelps and homosexual activists have much of the
same message Chambers said. Phelps has picketed "Love One
Out" meetings, which are geared toward taking the gospel
"He's out there standing alongside gay activists, and
their message is the same: homosexuality isn't healable (and)
God can't do anything about that. ... It's a death message,"
Chambers said. "Their message is the same. ... He's more
like a gay activist than he'd like to believe."
What Do Southern Baptists Believe?
The Southern Baptist Convention has repeatedly stated its position
on homosexuality. The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message says
that "Christians should oppose ... all forms of sexual immorality,
including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography."
Since 1980 various SBC annual meetings have passed ten resolutions
related to homosexuality, including one in 1985 testifying of
God's love for homosexuals. It reads: "We affirm the biblical
injunction which declares homosexuals, like all sinners, can receive
forgiveness and victory through personal faith in Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11); and ... we maintain that while God loves
the homosexual and offers salvation, homosexuality is not a normal
lifestyle and is an abomination in the eyes of God (Leviticus
18:22; Romans 1:24-28; 1 Timothy 1:8-10)."
The difference between Fred Phelps and Southern Baptists is
vast, Midwestern's Roberts said.
"[Phelps] has a heretical position, because indeed we
are commanded to go and make disciples of all people," he
said. "That means all religions, ethnicities, and moral categories
[while] realizing that all of us have sinned and come short of
the glory of God."
Phelps' position is non-biblical in both its "posture
and attitude," Roberts added.
"[Homosexuals] need Jesus Christ just as everyone does,"
Roberts said. "The sin of homosexuality is a forgivable sin.
... He's apparently quite willing to do God's work for Him in
terms of condemning them all to hell without mentioning that redemption
awaits anyone who comes to faith in Christ."
Even if a homosexual refuses to repent, Roberts said, "We're
still commanded to love them as our neighbor." He added that
some of the most "outstanding" Christians he has met
are former homosexuals.
"Our posture has to be to point them to the fact that
life's greatest reward is found in being obedient to Jesus and
that means being obedient to His commands," Roberts said.
"... Folks need to realize that this man is not representative
of the Christian community."
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