tml> Love and Hate in Topeka

Critique of Fred Phelps' Theology
Questions from the Audience
Love and Hate in Topeka
The Theology of Fred Phelps


NOTE TO THE READER: What follows is John Rankin's paper as presented on 13 October 2002 in Casper, Wyoming in his debate with Fred Phelps. They debated the topic,"Does God Hate Homosexuals?," with Mr. Phelps arguing 'yes' and Rev. Rankin arguing 'no.' In the lecture at Washburn University on 17 April 2004, Rev. Rankin added additional commentary interspersed with the text of the paper, as shown below.

[reading from text]
The definitive question is this: Does love define hate, or does hate define love? To define something means that the one giving definition is greater and prior to what is defined. It means that what is defined cannot exist otherwise.

[commenting on text]
The only definitions come from those who are prior to determining defines. Is that fairly clear? And so does love define hate, or does hate define love. Which comes first in the order of the universe?

In 1 John 4, the apostle says:
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (v.8).

There you have a definitive statement. “God is love.”

Jesus sums up the greatest commandments as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and thus, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

John says that by definition, God is love. And Jesus says that our neighbors include our enemies. Is there any definitive statement in the Bible that says God is hate? No. Therefore, it is God's nature as love that defines any language of hate. starts with hate, not love. Therefore hate is its defining identity, implying that this is where God's identity begins - contrary to Scripture.

My whole argument here is that Fred Phelps and his website are contrary to Scripture.

The Bible is the story of creation, sin and redemption, as defined in Genesis 1-3. The order of creation is good, sin reverses and breaks that order, and redemption reverses the reversal and restores the goodness. The word Gospel means to "announce good news," and is rooted in Genesis 1-2. The God of creation is greater than space, time and number, and he is entirely good. Pagan religions all start with an assumption of destruction at the outset.

I gave detail of that this morning.

But how can something be destroyed unless it has first been created? This leads to a second question: Does creation define destruction, or does destruction define creation?

This is the key theological point. Every religious origin text in human history, apart from the Bible, starts with war. It starts with destruction. The Babylonian Genesis, the mother of all pagan religions out of which every other pagan religious origin text is rooted, starts with gods and goddesses warring against each other. And as they’re warring against each other, Marduk upends Tiamat’s army, he kills her and splits her body in half. When he splits her body in half, with one half of the carcass, described as a mussel shell, he makes the heavens. The other half he makes the earth. The whole identity of understanding of creation in pagan religion is it comes out of destruction. But how can you destroy something that has not first been created? Where did the universe come from? The Babylonian Genesis never gets to that question. And after this initial war there are all the losers and Tiamat’s army are made into slaves, they complain about being slaves, so Marduk makes another god Kingu, and then out of Kingu’s blood he makes man and woman to be slaves to slaves. So the whole understanding of human nature in the Babylonian Genesis is we are meant to be slaves. And every pagan religion does not overcome that. And the reason being is they have no understanding of original goodness. Yahweh-Elohim by definition in his Hebrew name is greater than space, time and number. In his goodness greater than space, time and number, his nature is defined as the power to give with the act of creation. And therefore we start with goodness and freedom to say no to goodness, which is where sin and brokenness come from. Then God’s redemptive love to restore us to his goodness. The key thing here to understand in critiquing Fred Phelps is the nature of goodness. Goodness is that which gives. Goodness is that which is created. Goodness is that which loves. And love by definition is volitional. You cannot love someone you don’t choose to love. Does anyone know what forced love is? It’s rape. And that’s what pagan religion is full of. True love requires reciprocation, it requires volition, it requires informed choice. So this is the whole predicate of divine love on its own terms. And the question again, does creation define destruction, or does destruction define creation? You have to have it one way or the other. During the interaction period between Fred Phelps and me, I asked him the question: Is the Bible defined by the doctrines of creation, sin and redemption in Genesis 1 and 2? And even, and this was part of my thesis at Harvard, where my evangelical faith was a minority. Even as I argued this at Harvard Divinity School, people may not believe in the inspiration of Scripture as I do, but they know that this is the Bible on its own terms. And Fred Phelps said no, no, he protested I was wrong. But he never answered the question about creation, sin and redemption. So what he is doing by not saying that creation precedes destruction, is he is saying that destruction precedes creation. So please tell me, how can that be argued? starts with a statement of destruction, not creation.

C.S. Lewis speaks of "the good infection" of the Gospel, rooted in the parable of Matthew 13:33. What infects what? Does love infect and poison the power of hate? Or vice versa?

The parable, by the way, is Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a woman who took a little bit of yeast and worked it into the whole batch of dough, and therefore getting increase. Now what’s interesting is, yeast in the Bible, or leaven, is in every case except Matthew 13 and the same parable in Luke, is regarded as a negative. In other words, how sin can affect and it can metastasize in the cancerous sense. But Jesus reverses that language. He talks about the Kingdom of God being a good infection, good infection actually is what C.S. Lewis calls it. So here’s a question: Does love infect and poison the power of hate, or vice versa? Which do we invest trust in? And my belief is that love can poison hate. Love can trump hate. It’s the opposite for Fred Phelps.

Do we, in the ministry of the Gospel, infect the world with the Good News, or do we infect it with the bad news of hate versus hate? In Romans 12, Paul shows how it is that love defines hate. He says:

"Love must be sincere. Hate was is evil; cling to what is good" (v.9).

Thereafter, Paul shows how to hate evil with the power of love:

So, when the Bible gets the language of hate, we are to hate evil for the sake of love. It’s true. If someone is about to drive their car off a cliff don’t we want to hate that action if we love that person? To try to stop them from driving off the cliff? The only time we can use the language of hate is when we are hating evil because evil hurts people. Paul continues here.

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge: I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (vv. 17-21).

How is it possible for to obey this Scripture, to do what is right in the eyes of everybody, to live at peace with everyone, or to show love to its enemies? Is it not defeated already, being overcome by evil?

Where does biblical preaching start? Is it with creation, sin or redemption? If we start with redemption, and do not define the depths and consequences of sin, we give false comfort. If we start with sin, and seek to scare the hell out of people, then we give false warning, for no prior goodness has been defined. We must start with the order of creation, so that as the height of its goodness is grasped, the depth of the fall can be understood, and the hope of redemption's height can be embraced.

Take a look for example at Buddhism. Even in its protest against Hinduism it started with one simple principle. The first principle it defines is, suffering is. Hinduism the same. Egyptian religion the same. Babylonian religion the same. Greek, Roman mythology, Norse, Mayan, you name it. They all start with the understanding that suffering exists. Uniquely in the Bible it starts with goodness. So if we start our preaching with hate we’ve already lost. We’ve already forfeited the Bible on its own terms. That’s what all pagan religion does. If we start with redemption without defining sin, then we give false comfort. We can not know the height of God’s love for us, made in his image. Or put it this way. We first need to know the height of God’s love. Only then can we understand the tragedy of the depths of sin. From that perspective understand the height that brings us back to the goodness of Genesis 1 and 2 where God says it is good, good, good.

When Paul addressed the pagan philosophers of Athens in Acts 17, he started with the order of creation, not with its reversal. Thus a third question: Does hope define fear, or does fear define hope? starts with the preaching of sin, not with the order of creation; with fear, not hope.

The goodness of the Gospel can be summed up in six ethical components. The word "ethics" refers to how we relate to each other. This is the love of God and one another.

The first ethic is the power to give.

Yahweh Elohim, the sovereign and good God of creation, gives man and woman stewardship over his good creation. The power to give is the definition of goodness and love. Love is goodness given, even if rejected. Forced love is rape, and therefore not love.

There are only two choices in life: Give and it shall be given, or take before you are taken. To take from others is to rob their humanity, an act of destruction. One of Satan's names is the "destroyer."

Therefore, we can pose a fourth question: Does God define Satan, or does Satan define God? The corollary, and therefore fifth question, is: Does giving define taking, or does taking define giving? If Satan defines the terms, then the universe implodes automatically, and could never have existed to begin with. allows Satan to define the terms; it starts with the power to take and destroy the humanity in hurting or even rebellious people, and not with the power to give.

Let me just back up a second and go back to the pace of questions that I’m posing here. The first is defining whether love defines hates, or does hate define love? Does creation define destruction, or does destruction define creation? Does hope define fear, or does fear define hope? Does God define Satan, or does Satan define God? Does giving define taking, or does taking define giving? Those are five parallel questions. And they all come back to what comes first, love or hate, creation or destruction.

In the order of creation, Yahweh Elohim initiates the power to give, and teaches Adam and Eve to receive and give to each other this goodness, then to give back to God in worship. This power to give and receive equals the basis for trust, for God is trustworthy in his goodness. The man and woman in covenantal marriage are thus free forever to trust each other, the basis for a healthy society. Man and woman are equals and complements, giving to and receiving from one another spiritually, physically, sexually and emotionally. Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are based on taking from someone you cannot trust fully, and this short-circuits the human soul. And homosexuality is without complementarity.

Thus we can pose a sixth question: Does trust define distrust, or does distrust define trust? starts with a war of distrust, being without the courage or power to invest trust in broken people's lives, as Jesus did in John 4 with the woman at the well.

A little background here. Jesus at noon on a hot day in Samaria decided not to walk around Samaria like all the Jews would do because of their hatred toward Samaritans, and vice versa, in the first century. But to walk right through enemy territory, right through Samaria itself. As he was doing so, the disciples went into town to buy some food, he went to the well at noon. All the respectable women of the town come to the well, Jacob’s Well in fact, in the early morning cool hours. The only people who come at noon are the prostitutes. So there is Jesus by himself and one woman who comes up. The disciples are shocked, scandalized, by the fact he is talking not only to a woman, but talking with a Samaritan who is obviously a prostitute. And so he asks her for a drink of water and we get into dialog where he basically draws out of her the desire to see the Messiah. He says, I who speak to you am he. She’s blown away that she’s talking to the Messiah that she’s hoping for. And she asked him the question about the nature of worship, should it be in Samaria or Jerusalem, the ancient debate between the northern or southern kingdoms, going back at this point 700-plus years. Jesus says I’ll answer you, but first call your husband and have him come here and I’ll answer you. And she says, Sir, I have no husband. Now, she’s scared at this point and she lies. He doesn’t call her a liar. He says, you are right in saying you have no husband. You’ve had five and the one you have now is not your own. She says, Sir, I perceive you to be a prophet, runs into town, brings everyone, and a whole bunch of belief is the result. See, he didn’t go to her pain and brokenness and condemn it. He took the one point of technical truth, technically she didn’t at that time have a husband. See what’s happening in first century Palestine, and this is a terrible thing that the Jews did to imitate pagan culture in doing this. But they had fallen prey to it at this time. There is no biblical basis for it. If a man wanted to divorce his wife, he simply stood outside in the hearing of others and looked at her and said, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” And she is out. She has no property, she has no freedom, she has no resource. And at that time she had one of two choices, possibly a third in other cultures. But for the most part two choices. Number one, return to her father’s house. And a lot wouldn’t allow that. Number two would be, become a prostitute. There’s other ways not going all the way into prostitution to survive, but very, very, very tough. And so essentially what happens is she had five husbands. There were five husbands who took her outside who said, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” Now Jesus is so gracious to her. The truth is that five husbands divorced you, you must have been a hard woman to live with. And yet Jesus didn’t bring that accusation. He said, you’ve had five, the one you have now is not your own because you’ve been in prostitution. And yet he affirmed the dignity of this broken woman. See, this is the nature. He invests trust in someone who society distrusts and she responds positively. And this is who Jesus is. In fact, it says in Romans 5 that God loved us when we were still enemies. He didn’t love us because we responded to him initiating the love empowering us to respond. And the same is true in how we treat all people no matter how much we disagree with them.

The second ethic is the power to live in the light.

The prologue to John's gospel says:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (vv. 1-5).

The power to live in the light means the freedom to have nothing to hide from, and with full accountability to God and one another. Thus, a seventh question: Does light define darkness, or does darkness define light? By definition, in physics, ethics and spiritual domains, darkness flees the presence of light.

Isn’t that true? You turn on the light, by definition darkness cannot be in its presence.

In John 3:19, Jesus says that men loved darkness instead of light, because they knew their deeds were evil. Darkness cannot understand or overcome the light. Jesus is the Light of the world, and Satan is the prince of darkness. To hate hatred with hate is to put no trust in the Light, and it is to be swallowed up by the darkness. To hate hatred with love allows the light of God's presence to drive the darkness away.

Jesus, as the incarnate Word, comes to sinful humanity and relates to our brokenness in terms we can understand, and reveals the truth as light by definition disperses the darkness. In philosophy there is a concept called "the metaethics of language." This means that it is not so much important that we understand what we mean to say, but that our hearers understand what we mean - especially those who oppose us.

Therefore, to live in the light is to be open, to be accountable, to reach out to seek to communicate, to make sure we’re understood. It’s not the easiest thing to do. I don’t know how well I succeed. But I labor to do it. lives in the darkness, is not accountable to the wider church, and fails to communicate and reveal the truth.

Now what I’m doing here, by the way, these six ethical components I wrote many, many years ago. They’re in volume one of my trilogy. And so I am taking what I believe to be the Word of God on its own terms. I haven’t sculpted these to criticize Fred Phelps. Rather, I’ve taken what I believe to be the Bible on its own terms, and looking at what Fred Phelps does. The power to give, the power to live in the light, I see what he is doing, it’s not the power to give, it’s the power to take. Not the power to live in the light, but the power to live in darkness.

The third ethic is the power of informed choice.

Those of you who know Fred Phelps know he rails against informed choice. He says that we’re all damned to hell regardless of our opinion, or we are consigned to heaven regardless of our opinion. We are essentially puppets. He rails against the power of informed choice.

The first words in the Bible are words of God's sovereignty, and the first words to Adam from Yahweh are words of freedom. God's sovereignty defines and provides for human freedom. This is the power of informed choice, as Yahweh defines for Adam and Eve the terms of good and evil, and the power to choose between the two.

Here is an eighth question: Does good define evil, or does evil define good?

God is free, and his freedom is the power to do the good.

In fact, if God didn’t do the good and did the evil, he would therefore not be God. He would not be free. Evil enslaves. Only goodness, unadulterated, keeps us free.

Adam and Eve were given the same freedom. God, himself not a slave, did not create man and woman as slaves. If God forced them into his will he would not be good.

This is very, very important. I think it’s the most important point of understanding the Bible on its own terms. The power of love and the power to give are the same. Love is giving a gift to someone. So let’s say for example I looked at Stan in the front row here, since I know Stan now, and took out my wallet and I convinced him and the rest of you that I have $100,000 in cash in here. Actually it’s $30. But let’s pretend it’s $100,000. Look, he’s reaching out his hand already. So I say, Stan, I’d like to give you a gift. My wallet has $100,000 cash in it. I already know what his answer would be because he already extended his hand. I say I want to give it to you. In order for you to receive it I must take the wallet, open it sideways, and shove it down your throat until it reaches the bottom of your intestinal tubing. Would you want that gift? No. It would be very bad. Yes, he’d be dead by the time it got down that far. Because it would destroy his intestines and the hydrochloric acid would destroy the dollar bills. So an autopsy wouldn’t even save the money for his estate. And so what happens is the very nature of giving is giving to someone who is free to accept or reject. And here is the cosmic risk that God takes. And that is that he loves us enough to let us say no. If he forced us to say yes it would not be love. We would be puppets or slaves. Look at Fred Phelps’ language, some of his daughters and others I’ve emailed to: it’s all, you have no choice, you have no choice. I say, if that’s the case why bother to communicate with me? If it is all fatally taken care of why are you spending all your time? That’s not theologically very compelling to me.

Adam and Eve, made in his image, were given the same freedom. God, himself not a slave, did not create man and woman as slaves. If God forced them into his will, he would not be good. Men and women would not be image-bearers of God, and would be no more than puppets, robots or animals.

Thus, we have a ninth question: Does freedom define slavery, or does slavery define freedom?

This God-given freedom is polluted by sin, but Yahweh still respects the freedom of man and woman to accept or reject his grace.

The word grace, by the way, both in Hebrew and Greek simply means gifts.

Sinful man has no power to save himself, or reach up to God. But God reaches down to us and provides the gift of salvation, if we will accept it. The Holy Spirit is the One who mediates this possibility. This reality of assumed freedom is seen when Yahweh first confronts Cain (Genesis 4:6-7) [when he said you have the power to do what’s right] in the final words of Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 30:11-20) [and that’s when he says choose life], in the final public words of Joshua (cf. Joshua 24:14-24) [you can choose the gods of the Babylonians, the gods of the Egyptians, or the gods of the Amorites, but as for me and myself and my household, we will choose Yahweh. Choose this day whom you will serve. The conclusion of (inaudible) public words], in the Bible's shortest sermon, given by Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 18:21) [where he says to the Jews, waver between Baal and Yahweh. He said, if Yahweh is God serve him, if Baal is God serve him]; in the invitation of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30) [for people to believe in him (inaudible)], in key words of Paul (cf. Galatians 5:1) [for freedom Christ has set you free and therefore do not submit again to slavery], and in the final invitation in the book of Revelation (cf. 22:17) [to all who are thirsty let him come and drink without cost for freedom]. says that free will is a lie, that people have no ultimate choice between heaven and hell; accordingly it means that people are slaves, and thus God is a slave-master like a pagan deity, which means that God is first a slave to his own lack of freedom, and therefore not sovereign.

And you see, they say that God is sovereign. But God is not free if God is a slave at making us slaves. They actually by saying God is sovereign, are making him into a pagan deity and making us into puppets.

The fourth ethic is the power to love hard questions.

All through the Bible, God is hospitable to our toughest questions. Jesus asked far more questions than he gave answers, for we cannot possess an answer until first we embrace the question. Here is a tenth question: Do questions define answers, or do answers define questions?

And this is really critical in my mind. Do we come to an answer and then shape all our study and knowledge to what serves that answer? In other words, do we come up with an answer and only accept the questions that serve our answer? Or are we free enough and radical enough, as was Jesus, to ask questions and see where the questions lead us? Only those who know the truth can take that risk. Because if God is true. . . Remember, Jesus said at one point, he said, if you don’t see me doing what the Father is doing don’t believe in me. He uses the if clause often. Only truth can use the if clause. Prove me wrong if you don’t see me measuring up. And so if we really believe that God is true then we are free to ask the toughest questions and demand no answers of ourselves or others. This is true liberty. This is the quintessence of biblical ethics. It is the very nature of Jewish religion and rabbinic teaching. The Rabbis loved questions and they recorded questions, hundreds of thousands over the years, including dumb questions by people who didn’t know better. Do you know why they recorded them? Everyone was an image bearer of God. And whatever the question was it was worth listening to and worth giving an answer. Just to give you an aside, Islam has no power to be hospitable to hard questions. They do not permit it, among outsiders especially, and hardly among insiders.

There are many salient hard questions here, such as the moral nature of hell, whether God still loves those who choose hell, predestination, and the nature of a biblical theocracy. We can thus pose an eleventh question: Does heaven define hell, or does hell define heaven? defines questions by presuppositional doctrinal grids with ready-made answers, thus censoring honest questions; and spends primary energy describing hell.

The fifth ethic is the power to love enemies.

So this is the fifth and sixth ethics. The power to give, the power to live in the light, the power of informed choice, the power to love hard questions. Those first four are all in the order of creation. The next two sum up redemption that restores us to the order of creation. The fifth ethic is the power to love enemies.

Here is a twelfth question: Does friendship define enemies, or do enemies define friendship? There is a well-known Arab proverb: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." But after the mutual enemy is vanquished, the new friendship resorts back to enemy status. If the sharing of a mutual enemy is the basis for friendship, hate will triumph over love.

That’s the whole history of the Middle East. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And when you take an enemy to be an enemy to another enemy, and you see it destroy that enemy [inaudible] becomes your old enemy. But even let me go a little bit more deeply and radical. Does anyone know why we have war right now in the Middle East and dealing with terrorism? It is because of a broken marriage covenant. Abraham was promised that supernaturally in his old age with Sarah they would have a child. Sarah lost faith in the timing of that promise. In Genesis 16 she came to Abraham. Their names were Abram and Sarai. They changed later. She came to Abraham and she said take my Egyption maidservant Hagar (they still hadn’t broken free of certain paganisms) and sleep with her and I’ll build my family through her. Now what’s interesting is that even in the sin of having concubines, at least the pagans allowed the concubines to raise their own children. Sarah wasn’t going to do that. Hagar was to be the first surrogate mother in recorded history. She was going to not buy her womb, but enslave her womb. [inaudible] conceived the childe, the moment that the boy is born and take him as her own. As soon as Hagar realized how despicably she was being used, she despised Sarah. Sarah despised Hagar back as a result. There was war between the women. Sarah was always conspiring to get young Ishmael out of the household . And Abraham, because he broke the covenant, it was Sarah’s idea but Abraham agreed. They were both at fault. Because of this Abraham was never allowed to be a father to Ishmael. Look at some of the text in him crying, he pleads to God, bless Ishmael, I don’t need another son. This man loves his son but he cannot be the father because Hagar is not allowed to be in the household, on the property, but not in the household. So Ishmael is the quintessential fatherless boy. And all children need the love of mom and the love of dad. Mom in the early years, their nurturing qualities, and Dad especially in the teenage years to teach ethics and morality and identity in the face of the culture, by which they can grow and reach maturity. We need mom and dad all of us. And so Ishmael is robbed of his father by his father’s and mother’s own fault because of the brokenness of marriage. So when Isaac is born and Ishmael mocks Isaac when he is being weaned, we are not told how he mocks him, but I can imagine this. He has been taught by Hagar that the son of Abraham is going to be a blessing to all the nations. And you are the son, you are the first son. Maybe she didn’t understand the truth to be through supernatural provision of Sarah. But Hagar is striving for her own dignity in this whole process. And Ishmael, the strong strapping boy, he becomes an archer. He’s about 13 years old. He’s a boy of 15 when Isaac is weaned. And so there is a 15 year old strapping young man who sees this two year old just being weaned and he mocks him and says this is the heir to my father’s estate? I could beat him up in a flash. Now, that’s historical fiction. But he was mocking him? But it’s plausible. That’s why it’s called historical fiction. We try to understand plausibly what happened in conversations in between the markers of history. But the point is he mocks him. And therefore there is a war now starting between the women, now there is warfare between the sons. And Ishmael is driven away by Sarai once again, and the prophecy upon him is he will become a wild donkey of a man, with his hands at the throat of his brother. And who are the descendents of Ishmael? The Arab peoples. And who are the descendents of Isaac? The Jews. So there is the war today because of the brokenness of the marriage covenant. The point I was making here back to the Arab proverb is all rooted in that reality. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This goes back 3800 years. Somewhere between 1900 and 1800 B.C.

The height of the sermon on the Mount is where Jesus says that perfection is the power to love enemies.

Now this isn’t Greek perfection, which really is what [inaudible] talked when you come right down to it, a perfectly sculpted profile. In Hebrew perfection is not not having sin, it is in right relationship. There is a dynamic humanity to it and Jesus says that perfection is in the power to love enemies.

Are we more concerned with perfect doctrine in the abstract, or in obeying Jesus in the concrete? Paul also says, in Romans 5, that Christ died for us when we were still his enemies (vv. 8-10). How can we but love those who are still his enemies? Paul says in Romans 12: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (v. 14).

This leads to a thirteenth question: Do blessings define curses, or do curses define blessings? Proverbs 15:1 says: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." defines enemies as its basis for whom it accepts as friends; it curses enemies and in its reaction to certain militant homosexuals, it mocks Proverbs 15.

The sixth ethic is the power to forgive.

After Jesus taught us the Lord's Prayer, he said:

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).

The power to forgive is the power to give in the face of the violation of human sin. Those who do not desire forgiveness for others mock the forgiveness they may have received, and are happier in hell where they can stew in their bitter and self-righteous juices.

Do you know that biblically no one goes to hell except those who want to? And no one goes to heaven except those who want to go. A marvelous short book on this subject is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. And let me give you an example of the ethics of this reality. Is there anyone here this evening who has ever experienced bitterness? One, two, three. Now, I want to give you a definition. It’s two words. Trust betrayed. We’re not bitter against those enemies on the other side of the barricade unseen. We get bitter against people who can be trusted and who violate that trust. Now, has anyone here ever enjoyed feeling bitter? I asked the question this morning. And in a way I gave example. Has anyone here ever plotted revenge? Ah, smiles. And didn’t you enjoy plotting revenge because that person who lied to you, who stole, is going to get their come-uppance? Now, most plots are simply in fantasy life. There are two ways to accomplish revenge. There is the pagan way, and the “sanctified” way. The pagan way is to position yourself strategically and push the person against whom you are bitter in front of an oncoming Mack truck. That accomplishes revenge. The “sanctified” way is to pray that they trip and fall in front of the Mack truck. And Jesus rebuked the disciples when they wanted to call fire down from heaven. He said no, vengeance belongs to God. Only God has mercy to that can triumph over judgment. The only vengeance he ever gives is that people who spit in his face will get mercy and love. Another way you can look at this, you can look at the Second Coming of Jesus in Luke 21 and in Revelation 6. Luke 21, look up and rejoice for your redemption draws near. That’s a loving relationship, eyeball to eyeball with the soon-coming King. It’s based on trust and forgiveness. In Revelation 6, when the signs of the coming of the Son of Man appear in the heavenlies, the peoples of the earth and the kings of the nations cry for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them and crush them to dust. They would rather be crushed in the dust of death, than look eyeball to eyeball at the Savior. They would rather have darkness, loneliness and stewing forever in the bitterness.

Voice in audience:


Voice in audience:
Who’s they?

Those who want the mountains to fall on them. You see, in Revelation 6, when the sign of the coming of the Son of Man reveals himself, the kings of the earth and the peoples cry out for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and crush them to death, rather than to look at Jesus eyeball to eyeball. They would rather have the darkness and death of being crushed by death than the humility of forgiveness and reconciliation. We can only reconcile if we forgive as we have been forgiven. And there are people, and you know this, people who would rather die in bitterness than to forgive and be reconciled. That is the moral nature of hell. And so what happens is, people choose hell. They would far rather be happy with the fire of anger in their breast and the darkness surrounding their souls, plotting revenge into eternity, than they would forgive and be forgiven. So this is the power of forgiving versus those who refuse forgiveness.

In Luke 7, Jesus says of the woman sinner, "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little" (v. 47).

In James 2, the apostle says:

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will we shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (vv. 12-13).

Thus, a fourteenth question: Does mercy define judgment, or does judgment define mercy?

Let me just give you the fourteen questions to show how they are all parallel, and they’re all being asked of Fred Phelps, none of which, by the way, he answered. Actually that’s not quite true. I finally got him at the end of the debate to say that hate defines love. But it took me a long time before he would agree with that. Because that’s exactly what he believes.

1. Does love define hate, or does hate define love?

2. Does creation define destruction, or does destruction define creation?

3. Does hope define fear, or fear define hope?

4. Does God define Satan, or Satan define God?

5. Does giving define taking, or taking define giving?

6. Does trust define distrust, or does distrust define trust?

7. Does light define darkness, or darkness define light?

8. Does good define evil, or evil define good?

9. Does freedom define slavery, or does slavery define freedom?

10. Do questions define answers, or do answers define questions?

11. Does heaven define hell, or hell define heaven?
For Fred Phelps, hell defines everything.

12. Does friendship define enemies, or do enemies define friendship?

13. Do blessings define curses, or do curses define blessings?

14. Does mercy define judgment, or does judgment define mercy? allows judgment to trump mercy; in so doing, the question may be asked: Do its sponsors know the God of mercy, or do they only know a god of merciless pettiness - like a [pagan] Zeus?

In 1988 at Harvard, three women classmates once approached me during lunch. They said they were lesbian, and that every lesbian they knew had been physically, sexually or emotionally abused as girls. When I heard this, I prayed in my spirit, "Dear God above, does the church know this testimony, or do we just condemn?”

Now, speaking as a man, a husband and father, I ask any father here today: How would you respond if you learned years later that your daughter had been so abused, and thus turned to lesbianism out of the fear of men? [So beyond your control. She was abused and turned to lesbianism.] Would you look at her, and say, "God hates you, you dirty hell-bound faggot?" [And that’s the Fred Phelps language.] Or would you wrap your arms around her in protective love and seek to minister to her wounded soul? How much more does our heavenly Father love all his children, the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

Isaiah 42 speaks of the Messiah:

"He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (vv. 2-3).

This is the language of binding up the broken hearted, of protecting the last flicker of hope in a wounded soul from the violent winds of adversity, cupping the hands around the wick and gently breathing the smolder back into a bright flame.

The Messiah himself says in Matthew 11:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (vv. 28-30).

Can we imagine how might counsel the father in speaking to his daughter? Would it be to call her a hell-bound faggot? Can we imagine walking in the light of Isaiah 42? Or, in its chosen language with raised voice, would it break the bruised reed, quench the smoldering wick, and in fact, would it oppose Jesus in his Messianic fulfillment of this prophecy?

In 1996 I addressed a packed forum at Yale Divinity School, where much of the audience was homosexual, and most others were thus sympathetic. Yet they all agreed that the Bible on its own terms is defined by the doctrines of creation, sin and redemption in Genesis 1-3. So I asked: Where in the order of creation is homosexuality found? No evidence could be provided.

And you’ve heard the weakness of the attempt last night. In fact, I saw Steven Kindle this morning. And those of you who were here last night, you heard him arguing that God brought him all the animals, asking him which one he wanted as his mate, which is as novel an interpretation as I’ve ever heard. So I asked him this morning, you mean to say that when God brought a goat, if Adam had said I want the goat as my helpmate and my wife, he would have given him the goat? And Steven Kindle said yes. This is the best argument I’ve heard to say that homosexuality is in the order of creation. But I could have asked him, why didn’t he bring him a man if homosexuality is [inaudible].

So I asked: Where in the order of creation is homosexuality found? No evidence could be provided.

After a break for refreshments, several ex-homosexuals from New York City gave their testimonies of conversion and lasting change through Jesus.

In the ten days following, the two student evangelical leaders who organized the forum were approached by as many as 20 avowed homosexuals. These homosexuals all posed the same question, "How can I change?" Jesus came to seek and save the lost. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 testifies to the possibility for homosexuals, and all sinners, to be transformed by the grace of God.

Would any homosexual student at Yale seek out for a listening ear?

Therefore, love defines hate, but for hate defines love and accordingly reverses the biblical order of creation. The same is true as allows destruction to define creation, fear to define hope, Satan to define God, taking to define giving, distrust to define trust, darkness to define light, evil to define good, slavery to define freedom, answers to define questions, hell to define heaven, enemies to define friendship, curses to define blessings, and judgment to define mercy.

The "gospel" of is bad news, not the Good News [the true gospel] of the Messiah. It is reactive in its insecurity, not proactive in confidence. It is indeed pagan in its ethics.

The true Gospel calls all people to repentance, based on the love of God for all sinners, homosexual or otherwise, and based on the evidence that God is good. The evil which God hates is rooted in his prior and defining love for us, that we may be set free from its tyranny.



Critique of Fred Phelps' Theology
Questions from the Audience