Mike Cope's blog

Friday, February 24, 2006

From the No-Wonder-So-Many-People-Hate-Christianity Department: A dozen states are scrambling to restrict picketing at funerals. They're doing it because Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, consider it their mission to protest at the funerals of American troops. They believe that what's happening in Iraq is God's judgment on America for our toleration of gays. "Thank God for IEDs" (improvised explosive devices) and "God Hates Fag Enablers" read their signs. "By your love they will know you are my disciples," said Jesus. But then, so much of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus. - - - - Sixteen guys at our 20th and final meeting. As I wrote a couple days ago, we began in 1987 as young preachers. At the time our ages ranged from 29-41. Now, 19 years later (making 20 years) we're 48-60. At times life has been hard. But through it all we've gathered each year to share our journeys. We've always known that no matter what happened there were other guys praying. What's so very strange right now is knowing that we won't be doing this again. We won't get the regular update--at least like we're used to--on marriages, children (and now, grandchildren), ministries, hopes, disappointments. What a privilege it's been. We began as a group meeting to talk about expository preaching. Thanks to the honesty of a couple guys in "the circle" our first year, we quickly became something else. "Band of brothers" is a bit overworked. But that's what we've been. Diane and I are fortunate to have other bands of brothers and sisters. And I think we all need them. We need people whom we've been with over the long haul who will take genuine interest in our story/stories, who will be completely honest with us, and who don't need to be impressed by us. As friends we'll still connect. But as a group we're defunct as of noon today. Go with God, YBB. . . .


  • "I'll lean on you and you lean on me and we'll be okay." - Dave Matthews Band

    By Blogger Beverly, at 2/24/2006 05:46:00 AM  

  • Encouragement is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give one another. We've been trying to share this concept with our children and make them understand the deep need people have for encouragement and also the blessings that come from being the encourager. In this mindset, my boys started a non-proft organization last summer to help encourage our deployed and injured troops. The purpose of "Operation Hero Letters" is to encourage people to write to the troops and then we mail them to a long list of soldiers we have been made aware of. We have received letters to mail that are from those who support the administations efforts and even those who don't. But all the letters support those who are working so hard in the military. The blessings we have received from this effort are beyond number. God's plan for encouraging each other works every time. We all need to lean on each other. If anyone is interested in encouraging the troops via this letter writing campaign, visit my boys website of www.operationheroletters.org.

    By Blogger Snapshot, at 2/24/2006 06:05:00 AM  

  • Your group has been a blessing to my father from the days of the "Young Bucks" until the days of the "Old Bucks." Thanks for your friendship with my family and all that brought with it. My dad has been sustained through this group. You are a blessing Mike!

    By Blogger Collin Packer, at 2/24/2006 06:32:00 AM  

  • The son of one the families in the church here was killed in action in Iraq when his helicopter went down. At his funeral last month the group you mention showed up and protested. Their presence took the headlines and marred what should have been a time of honor and respect. It was a despicable act of cowardice and shame.

    By Blogger Rcutsinger, at 2/24/2006 06:36:00 AM  

  • "so much of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus"


    By Blogger Agent B, at 2/24/2006 06:45:00 AM  

  • Your story on the picketing reminded me of a quote from Bono. "Religion is what happens when Jesus leaves the room."

    By Blogger Tammy M., at 2/24/2006 06:49:00 AM  

  • Regarding picketing at funerals and hating fag enablers--it seems apparent that it is possible to have a master in divinity but a doctorate in stupidity. God hates "fag enablers" so much that He lovingly sacrificed His Son for them--as well as sacrificing His Son for "fags", Pharisees and folks who hate fag enablers. Indeed, much of CHURCHIANITY has nothing to do with Jesus.

    By Blogger eddy, at 2/24/2006 07:17:00 AM  

  • Fred Phelps is one screwed up individual. "The mission of the Westboro Baptist Church is to bring others to Christ by being as obnoxious and irritating as possible." Church motto: "We are the salt of your wounds."

    Imagine going to their ministry recruiting meeting. "We need teachers for our children's ministry, a leader for our men's ministry, and righteous indignators for our Gadara Ministry to the maggot infested, culture. If you have the gift of irrational protesting and the gift of no-mercy, please sign up in the gun room, next to the parlor."

    We should say, "I know Jesus Christ, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I know followers of Christ -- who are these people?"

    By Blogger David Michael, at 2/24/2006 07:25:00 AM  

  • Fred Phelps has been at this sort of thing for a long time. He (and others) for a while picketed the funerals of those who died of AIDS, and he also protested the funeral of Matthew Shephard, who, because he was gay, was savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead (he later died in the hospital). The hate crime, apparently, was God's punishment inflicted on Matthew Shepard by the righteous hands of his attackers.

    I used to be enraged just by the mere mention of Phelps or his church. But not anymore. Phelps is just another in the long line of Christians who, for ages, have spouted vitriol directed at lesbians and gay men. Instead of anger, I now can feel only pity for Phelps.

    Instead, I am more angry with those who stood (and stand) by silently while he (and others like him) spoke out for so long. I am angry at those who, during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, did nothing while young men dropped dead around them. At those who stood silently by while Phelps, Falwell, Robertson, Helms, and others called AIDS the wrath of God against homosexuals. At those who stood silently by as Phelps, Falwell, and Robertson blamed 9/11 on the lesbians and gays (among others). And at those who still stand silently by as less pernicious, though still evil, forms of homophobia take place around them. Silent, as the word 'fag' is muttered around them. Silent, as people say gays can't be schoolteachers because they will try to recruit our children. Silent, as children mock the little boy who wants to play with the girls.

    Phelps is a sad man, I agree. But we must remember how poorly our 'love the sinner, hate the sin' approach has worked in the past. We must remember that, though Phelps's actions are blameworthy, so are the actions of so many of our churches today.

    Churches, especially Churches of Christ, have done a pretty sad job of showing love to the gay community. Perhaps this should be a wake-up call to all of us.

    By Blogger Gay Restorationist, at 2/24/2006 07:37:00 AM  

  • What is the most disconcerting to me with respect to “Christians” disrupting the funerals of brave Americans who have died in the defense of this country is the fact that we’re (those who profess Jesus as Lord of their lives) only one thought, one phrase, one action away from the very evil that these knuckle-heads are protesting against.

    In fact, they have become the very thing they are protesting against.

    I agree with "agent b" in that Mike has said it well:

    "..so much of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus"

    By Blogger cwinwc, at 2/24/2006 07:45:00 AM  

  • "Churches, especially Churches of Christ, have done a pretty sad job of showing love to the gay community. Perhaps this should be a wake-up call to all of us."

    I wonder what the gay community considers "showing love" to involve? Does it involve embracing homosexuality? If that is the definition then Christianity should never show "love" to the gay community.

    However, if you mean "showing love" is doing what Jesus did when he welcomed the sinners (the harlots and taxgathers, etc.) to His table for the purpose of redemption, then I would agree. I think sometimes we are guilty of classifying sins and thinking that some sins are beyond redemption. I think many have done that with homosexuality.

    I'm not against homosexuality because I believe homosexuals are such terrible people. I'm against homosexuality because it is unloving and degrading to the lives it touches. It is, as all sin is, a form of selfishness, and our great challenge in life is to learn how to love.

    By Blogger Ahnog, at 2/24/2006 07:46:00 AM  

  • The homosexual issue aside, how could anyone who loves God and claims the blood of Jesus PICKET at a FUNERAL! That may be the most awful thing I have ever heard a supposed man of God doing. I feel for the families of the soilders who have lost and sacrificed so much. Whether you support the war or not, at least respect the loss and greif of these families!
    And they'll know we are Christians by our love.

    By Blogger SG, at 2/24/2006 07:52:00 AM  

  • I thought about Phelps and others like him while sitting through a Lectureship class this past week. The title of the 3-day class was Spiritual Pollution: The Challenge of Holding Together Love and Purity in the Church, and panelists included Richard Beck, Abilene, Texas; Gary Elliott, Searcy, Ark.; John Mark Hicks, Nashville, Tenn.; Tommy King, San Angelo, Texas; Tracy Shilcutt, Abilene, Texas.

    Basically, Beck, a psychology professor at ACU and member at the Highland church, wrote a paper on how Christian purity codes and metaphors have traditionally marginalized or even "demonized" certain groups. Tracy Shilcutt, a historian, discussed spiritual pollution in reference to the Salem Witch Trials, where single women and widows (along with some men) were marginalized, persecuted, and even killed. The panel discussed whether our purity metaphors and codes in the church actually do more harm than good in our relationship with the world. I only got to attend on Wednesday, but it was very stimulating.

    I couldn't help but think about the homosexual community when hearing this discussion. We rank their sins higher than our own, so we consider them polluted and cast them out. Most of us don't picket their funerals, but today's manifestation of the oppression of the Witch Trials might just be ignorance and back-turning. "They are unclean." "They don't want God's love and transformation." "I don't have anything in common with them."

    Two things: First, we have no right to hold the world to Christian morality codes. Paul tells us we can hold other Christians to Christian morality codes, but not the world. Can we please just stop moralizing everyone? Second, I agree with Greg that this issue -- more than women's roles or instrumental music -- will be the issue of significance for the church in the younger generation with respect to our culture.

    Phelps and his cronies are extreme, but his actions and opinions stem from attitudes not unlike the ones that many "normal" Christians in America have.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 2/24/2006 08:02:00 AM  

  • sg, Phelps is no man of God. Do you see any of the fruits of the Spirit (the evidence of transformation) reflected in his actions? I am normally slow to judge a person's relationship with God, but I can tell you that this man shows no evidence of having been transformed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 2/24/2006 08:08:00 AM  

  • I heard this week about a group of bikers (now numbering over 2,000 nationwide) that will attend funerals and establish a perimeter around the service and do nothing but park their bikes and stand at attention to keep protesters at bay. I cannot remember what they were called but apparently several are former Hell's Angels. I love the contrast.

    By Blogger Val, at 2/24/2006 08:09:00 AM  

  • Mike, the self-loathing tone of your post is misplaced. Phelps no more represents Christians than David Duke represents caucasians. But I don't see you referencing KKK activity under the banner of "No-Wonder-So-Many-People-Hate-White-Folks Department."

    By Blogger Phil Richardson, at 2/24/2006 08:26:00 AM  

  • Phil: The sad part is that those who might care to notice Christianity from the outside see people like Phelps as an example of the typical "Christian." I say "care to notice" because fewer and fewer are caring to notice based on christianity's track record of beating up on those who don't toe the mark of a "believer's" own interpretations.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 2/24/2006 08:49:00 AM  

  • We used to attend church with a man whose aunt was dying of AIDS. She had been an EMT and was accidentally pricked with an infected needle. This poor woman received so much hate mail "in the name of Christ" from people (not from our church) who wanted to make sure she knew that her disease was the result of something awful she had done. She even received a dead rat in the mail with a note that said "This will be you soon."

    Then I think of the women at Highland who cooked every Friday for AIDS patients in the Abilene community. They didn't want to be noticed. They didn't stand on the street and yell at people. They just quietly carried out their loving ministry so families of AIDS victims could spend what precious time was left with their loved ones instead of worrying about food. This is the work, the beauty and the love of Christ. I don't think the Westboro folks will ever figure that out, and that makes me sad for them.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 2/24/2006 08:59:00 AM  

  • Reminds me of Derek Webb's song "T-Shirts". Some of the lyrics:

    "They'll know us by the T-shirts that we wear
    They'll know us by the way we point and stare
    At anyone whose sin looks worse than ours
    Who cannot hide the scars of this curse that we all bear

    They'll know us by our picket lines and signs
    They'll know us by the pride we hide behind
    Like anyone on earth is living right
    And that isn't why Jesus died
    Not to make us think we're right

    When love, love, love
    Is what we should be known for
    Love, love, love
    It's the how and it's the why
    We live and breathe and we die"

    By Blogger Josh, at 2/24/2006 09:20:00 AM  

  • Those folks picketing remind me of one of the college students who said, in class, "The Tsuanami hit those people as a judgement because they worship cows." I cringed along with other students.

    How insensitive humans can be sometimes!

    Ron Clark

    By Blogger KMiV, at 2/24/2006 09:28:00 AM  

  • Is it okay to hate the hater? Umm...Mike preached an amazing sermon last Sunday...

    By Blogger Beverly, at 2/24/2006 09:33:00 AM  

  • Is the only way for Christians to engage in a conversation on the topic of sexual orientation through the lens of morality as it relates to the gay sex act?

    Jesus didn't take Zaccheus to task for his unethical tax practices, but rather honored him above the entire crowd by inviting himself into a friendship with him. As I recall, Jesus never mentioned how Zaccheus took advantage of people - a far worse moral violation than private gay sex that no one knows about.

    Maybe friendship is more persuasive than moral code. Maybe speaking the truth in love is more than a Biblical way of justifying condemnation and actually has a lot to do with friendship.

    Christian moral code is not credible to people who do not feel loved by Christians. And a moral code without love is an immoral moral code.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 2/24/2006 01:05:00 PM  

  • "Is the only way for Christians to engage in a conversation on the topic of sexual orientation through the lens of morality as it relates to the gay sex act?

    Jesus didn't take Zaccheus to task for his unethical tax practices, but rather honored him above the entire crowd by inviting himself into a friendship with him. As I recall, Jesus never mentioned how Zaccheus took advantage of people - a far worse moral violation than private gay sex that no one knows about."

    I think the point you miss is that in the end Zaccheus understood what Jesus expected--repentance and reformation. Any relationship God's people sustain to homosexuals must have this same end in mind.

    By Blogger Ahnog, at 2/24/2006 01:34:00 PM  

  • Long time reader, first time poster.

    Although I'm not sure I agree with you I understand where you are coming from regarding the end result. I strongly feel that every conversation we have with people does not have to revolve around their sins even if we feel strongly they should change. My husband does not greet me at the door each night and say "so how is that patience thing coming?" nor do I ask him if he is going to let a cuss word slip or (insert any sin that you struggle with here). In order to have real conversations with people about change you have to a have a real and loving relationship with them. These types of relationships are never developed if met with a Hi my name is... and I think being gay is a sin. Let's talk about how you can change this. The church as a whole often communicates this to the GLBT community before we even meet an individual. I am convinced this is not the way Jesus would greet them. Jesus showed love first before ever asking anyone to change.

    By Blogger Ashleigh, at 2/24/2006 02:02:00 PM  

  • I think the point you miss is that in the end Zaccheus understood what Jesus expected--repentance and reformation. Any relationship God's people sustain to homosexuals must have this same end in mind.

    How long does this "end" take? A month? A year? What if a homosexual person never repents? Does it change our responsibility to love them like crazy?

    It is not our responsibility to convict another person of his or her sin. That is the job of Christ and the Holy Spirit. If we are loving people extravagantly, many times they'll bring it up and they may be on the road to transformation. I think the key here is mutual accountability and transformation, not just us trying to get the sinner to change his or her ways. We must be transparent and wear our sinfulness on our sleeve. That is the difficult part for most Christians.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 2/24/2006 02:07:00 PM  

  • I'm of the opinion that no one, not one, can recover from a sinful life or practice without the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. So I return to the order given by Jesus in what we call the Great Commission. No where does He say, "go show them how wrong they are, go change their habits, go rid sin from their lives, then bring them to Me." What He does say is, 'teach my Good News, make disciples of them, then teach them everything I've taught you.'

    If we'd get busy doing what God has asked us to do - love each other so others will know we belong to Him, tell the Good News, make disciples, if we share what Jesus truly wants of us, God will bring His harvest in their hearts and in the sanctification of each one of us.

    The only true way to love someone is to take their arm, lovingly lead them on the path to the Cross, lead them to Jesus and let God take care of forgiving sins, be they sins of lust, thievery, gossip, covetness, whatever - we need only plant and water, leaving the harvesting to God.

    Also, we have been lured into believing the world's definition of "tolerance" - it is NOT acceptance of any and all things, all actions and attitudes in which people may be engaged.
    To me, tolerance is not rejecting anyone,accepting everyone. If it [tolerance] is to mean acceptance, may it be acceptance of each and every person we meet being as God has created them, in His image and worthy of hearing the Good News of Jesus and His offered salvation, they are worthy of our time and agape love. Let's worry about their actions AFTER they have the power of the Holy Spirit to guide them and sanctify them.

    Now, before I get a nosebleed, help me down from this soap box. :O)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 2/24/2006 03:05:00 PM  

  • As bad as Christianity's reputation is, it could get worse. Imagine if THIS man won his bid for election as Texas governor:


    I think his Bible is missing a few pages. And by few pages, I mean the entire New Testament.

    By Blogger Alex, at 2/24/2006 03:15:00 PM  

  • Jesus shows his moral stance with Zaccheus by befriending him. Would Jesus have quit being his friend had Zaccheus kept ripping people off? I think that he would have.

    Jesus was good news to Zaccheus. Yes, Zacchues needed to stop ripping people off, but that begs the question of what else he needed. Jesus went for the most important need first - friendship, acceptance, honor, respect, investing trust etc. He did not try to sort out the behavior.

    Even if Zaccheus did know the intentions of Jesus to be that he repent and reform (which may or may not have been Jesus' goal - I think his goal was to have Zaccheus feel what it was like to be loved) Jesus sure did take a weird way of getting there.

    Had Zaccheus asked Jesus what he thought about unfair taxation, Jesus probably would have told him a story that was either a bit confusing or striking and surprising. He probably would never have given him a moralistic answer. But he didn't ask that question and Jesus didn't answer it. He was excited to be chosen to be inthe presence of this unusual and great teacher.

    We Christians get so excited about answering questions people are not even asking that the odds of communication actually occuring are microscopic.

    We need to find a way to connect with people in meaningful ways. Soon enough we'll get an invitation into other things - even if it takes 10 years.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 2/24/2006 03:25:00 PM  

  • GR and Ashleigh, Amen!

    Part of striving towards humility, I believe, is willingness to be open to the fact that we might be wrong about how we have looked at a certain issue for all our lives, i.e. homosexuality. It's so easy to point fingers at Fred Phelps and company, because "We would never do something like that." But I think G.R. makes a strong point when thinking about how the church and us as individuals have remained silent while so much hatred abounds concerning homosexuality. Can we stop fighting about the ethics of a sex act and instead listen to our brothers and sisters?

    By Blogger TKP, at 2/24/2006 05:41:00 PM  

  • I'm appalled by these people who protest at funerals. Besides, to suggest that the U.S. military loves homosexuality is to betray an ignorance of the world in which we live. However, many soldiers in our Army serve because they believe that they are fighting for freedom. Freedom sometimes encompasses actions that I do not approve. The United States (a political entity) and the church are not identical groups. People certainly can protest. Soldiers fight for them to maintain that right. However, common sense, good taste, and certainly morality would seem to rule out these kinds of demonstrations at funerals by people who even marginally claim to be Christian.

    By Blogger Michael Summers, at 2/24/2006 05:46:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger RightMiddleLeft, at 2/25/2006 04:37:00 AM  

  • I love this discussion. There have been so many beautiful truths expressed here. I am thankful to God to know that there are people in the Body who recognize the importance of these issues.

    By Blogger Lisa E, at 2/25/2006 08:05:00 AM  

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