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Note: If you are not familiar with Westboro Baptist Church prior to reading this open letter, watch a bit of ABC's 20/20 report here. You'll get the idea.

Dear Pastor Fred Phelps and members of Westboro Baptist Church;

I forgive you.

That's probably not what you were expecting. You probably don't think you need my forgiveness. Most other people reading this probably don't think you deserve it. Nevertheless, I forgive you.
See, I've read your websites. I've read the names of your websites. I've listened to your members being interviewed. I've watched you picket military funerals and carry signs saying "God hates fags" with pride. I've heard you say over and over again that you do what you do and you hate who you hate because we are all being "disobedient to the Lord our God and to the Scriptures." 

Well, now I would like to offer you forgiveness for being disobedient to the Lord your God and to the Scriptures.

I think we're reading different Bibles, you and I. You proclaim that you hate (and that God hates) those who identify themselves with a homosexual orientation, along with Jews, people of others faiths and religious associations, and all of America. I would like to offer you forgiveness for hating others when Jesus said that loving your neighbour as you love yourself is the second greatest commandment God has ever given, second only to loving him. I would like to offer you forgiveness for murder, since the very Scriptures which you proclaim tell us that "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).

You proclaim that because you are "God's elect," you are therefore better than everybody else outside of your community. I'm not sure if you would actually put it that way out loud, but you say it by living to spread "God's hate" and condemn others (and that you've definitely said out loud). I would like to offer you forgiveness for judging the sins of others, for "you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1). If you know those Scriptures of yours well, then you know that "if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:9-10, emphasis mine).

I would like to ask you what your sins are, members of Westboro Baptist Church. What makes your flaws and imperfections less evil than those of others? When you condemn those who identify themselves as homosexuals, do you think that one form of choosing to live outside of God's design for human sexuality is more evil in his eyes than another? Do you think that God doesn't view adultery, or indulging in pornography, or simply looking at a man or a woman with lustful thoughts in our minds as equally outside of his design? Have you ever done any of those things? Do you think that hatred and judgment, both clearly condemned in your Scriptures, are somehow "better sins"?

I'm really not sure what your motivations are for behaving the way you do. It seems almost too hard to believe that you really think that what you are saying and doing is right. It seems almost like a stunt at times. A ploy for media coverage and attention and controversy. It seems as though you want to be hated. Like you're proud of it. 

I'm sure you would quote Jesus at this point, telling me that "blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil" for Jesus' sake. Here's the problem: Jesus was hated because he claimed to be God and to have the authority to forgive sins, not because he picketed the funerals of the local sinners. Not because he told people he hated them for their "disobedience to the Lord our God and to the Scriptures." He wasn't hated because he gave people a legitimate reason to hate him. He was hated because he claimed to be the only way to God. He never once picked up a sign or condemned anybody as hated by God. In fact, in those Scriptures you keep talking about, he taught us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:27-28). And here's the kicker: he commanded us to "love [our] enemies...and [our] reward will be great, and [we] will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men" (Luke 6:35, emphasis added). Yes, God himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Like you, and like me. He loved ungrateful and evil men so much that he was willing to die for us, even knowing that most of us wouldn't care. He died for ungrateful and evil men. Yet you celebrate the deaths of those same men and women for whom God himself died sacrificially, and you claim to be doing so on his behalf. There's a lot that doesn't seem right about that. Don't you see it?

The only time that we ever read of Jesus being angry in the "Scriptures" is when he wreaks havoc in the temple. He is most enraged by the abuse and misuse of his Father's house, by those who already claim to worship God. The only times Jesus shouts insults are when he confronts the most religious people of his time. He doesn't go take out a strip club. He's not livid at the drunks (he turned water into wine at a wedding), the gluttons (he feasted) and the liars (he was called a 'friend of sinners'). And he certainly doesn't go looking for any funerals to knock over. No, when Jesus flips out, he flips out at people who are behaving...well...kind of like you. People who think themselves to be the most devoted, most holy followers of God. People who make their own authority equal to God's authority. People who judge the sins of others while being blind to their own. People who think they are better than the "sinners". He called these kinds of people "white-washed walls" and a  "brood of vipers." What do you think his words are to you?

I'm concerned for you, members of Westboro Baptist Church. I ask you not to be angry with me, as I am not angry with you. I'm not a blasphemer. I'm not hated by God. I'm just a guy who's been touched by his love. Don't miss out on truly experiencing Jesus' love for you too. It is such a privilege to be able to pour out that same compassionate love on others. There is so much joy and peace with that kind of love. Don't you ever wonder what that is like?  

I pray with all my heart that the world would know that you do not truly represent Jesus. I pray that they would know that Jesus loves us in spite of our sin, and that they would be drawn to him to be unconditionally loved and eternally forgiven, rather than pushed away by the idea of his hatred.

It is true that God is a God of wrath in that he rightfully hates and punishes sin. And it is true that we are all deserving of separation from him. It is not true that God hates us. He does not wish for "any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

For these reasons, I would like to offer you forgiveness, people of Westboro Baptist Church. And I believe Jesus is offering you forgiveness too. 

God does not hate you. He loves you, and so do I.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned" (Luke 6:37).

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

A personal note to Lauren Drain, who was excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church and cast out from her own family for rejecting their beliefs: 

Lauren, we who truly follow Jesus Christ want you to know that we love you. I pray that what has happened to you does not prevent you from seeking God's real, unconditional love for you and his plan for your life. Jesus too was rejected by his own people and by his family. He understands your pain. He is with you through all of this, and so are we.
 


Josh
03/04/2011 7:03pm

Wes - thank you for writing a response from your heart and representing followers of Jesus.

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Jenni
03/04/2011 9:48pm

I also want to thank you for these words, which are God's truth. I have been hearing so much about the "hate" of this church lately. It makes me sad that the world sees these people as Christians and believes that this is what all Christians believe.

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03/06/2011 1:58am

amen sir

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