Thursday, 20 December 2007
God Hates Fags?
I was genuinely blown away when I accidentally came across the website of Westboro Baptist Church the other day. It really is amazing, it depicts in the most blunt and explicit terms how totally depraved interpretations of God and his Gospel can be extracted from the Bible. It's as if the Bible is a beach of different coloured stones, and it's up to the interpreter to pick them up and rearrange them in what ever fashion he wants. The criteria for arrangement may well say as much about him and his culture as about the Bible itself.
So what is their central message? God hates you! Isn't that amazing? They actually consider it their God-given duty to tour America with placards, picketing military funerals and other symbolic events with the message that everyone (but them) are going to burn for an eternity in the lake of fire, where "their worm shall not die", in the most exquisite agony, in full display of the elect in heaven.
Not only is the message shocking and bemusing, but so is the professionalism of the website. Whoever did this is not an unintelligent red neck whose education consists in stacking shelves at Walmart.
The congregation is led by Fred Phelps, who defends his "profound theological statement" that "God hates fags" in a video clip here. You can watch clips of other members of his congregation (most of whom are relatives of his) defending the various placards they carry here. Here are some of the slogans they carry: "Thank God for 9/11", "God hates fags," "AIDS cures fags," and "Fags die, God laughs (or mocks)", "priests rape boys".
A full documentary of the man has been made here.
A great clip from a church sermon plus interview with Louis Theroux can be found here.
A new generation? Phelp's scary granddaughers are interviewed here.
What does this say about theological exegesis? One thing it does for me is emphasise the importance of 'ecclesial tradition' as a mediator of the gospel. From earliest times, Christian reading of the Bible was understood to be a 'ruled reading', in which a specific theological framework was already presupposed, the regula fidei or 'rule of faith'. This rule of faith, or the 'Gospel', was not understood to be an alien structure imposed onto the Bible, but a faithful summation of the content of the Bible, or perhaps better, the reality to which the Bible witnesses (its 'substance', as Childs puts it). The starting point of all our thinking is not an abstract commitment to a book, but our relationship with the resurrected Son of God. Through his eyes we turn to Scripture as his primary witness, and there starts the dialectical dance as wrestle with God (Israel=Yisra-'el) in hope and faith.
Fred Phelp's primary problem is not his biblical interpretation, it's the God he worships.