The handful of Fred Phelps' family members who comprise Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have garnered national notoriety with a simple message: God hates gays, soldiers, you, me, and basically everyone. Their message is carefully crafted to maximize offense, as are the venues they choose, very often funerals. Their knack for inflammatory rhetoric and self-promotion has earned them almost universal disapprobation. Nevertheless, the Phelps take themselves to be God's prophets. Their website is replete with blblical references. Their biblical rationale is clearly highlighted. I find myself asking a troubling question. Biblically and theologically, is their gospel of hate defensible? After all, I hear echoes of their theology elsewhere. The Phelps are extreme exemplars of a virulent strain within Calvinistic theology whose mission is the proclamation of what I will call a "gospel of condemnation". Pickets, placards, and bullhorns are very often their preferred prophetic tools. (Is the medium the message?) God's imminent judgment in Hell is the predominant theme. Like the Phelps, they are more than eager to play at blblical prooftexting with any and all comers. Indeed, they are especially fond of picketing "Laodicean" Christian events where they can expect to be rifling through scripture with a host of challengers and onlookers. They'll be chomping at the bit at any mention of John 3:16. And so again, I ask, are they faithfully representing the Bible? Does God hate people? Does God hate wrongdoers? Recently (October 7, 2011), Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church sounded similar notes in his thoroughgoing series on the gospel of Luke, stating and restating that "God hates you", before doubling back confusingly to reassure the listener that "God loves you". Driscoll is not at all marginal. He is a gifted and highly influential exegete and pastor within Reformed circles. He does his homework and cares about accurately teaching the Bible. Hearing a similar theology of God's hate from the likes of Driscoll makes it clear that the theology itself cannot be dismissed out of hand. If you had thought, like me, that the Christian gospel was one of God's boundless, unmerited love for sinners, this theology of God's hatefulness must be considered on its own terms. So, what does the Bible say?
- God cannot be good because the world is rife with evil and suffering;
- The God we meet in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, is repugnant to our moral sensibilities; and,
- Those who claim to follow this God are responsible for epic evils like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the "troubles" in Northern Ireland as well as for more quotidian evils like intolerance, anti-intellectualism, and being bores.