Dear Mr. Phelps:
I took time to walk by the Supreme Court today. I went out of curiosity to see if your church was picketing your very own trial. But I also went to pray. I went to pray for you, the members of your church, and the Supreme Court justices who are now charged with discerning whether or not you are liable to pay the family of Matthew Snyder for the hurt you caused them. You are in my prayers often, Mr. Phelps. I pray that somehow God will change your heart - that somehow you will be led to love people instead of hate people.
It was actually a gay person who told me how I needed to love you. He brought me an amazing picture taken near a place where you had been holding your signs filled with hatred. The picture was of a woman who was draped in a rainbow flag. She was holding a sign that read, "God loves fags, trannies and even Fred Phelps." Yes, Mr. Phelps, while I despise your actions and the way in which you cause so much harm to the church of Jesus Christ, I believe God loves you. And, I believe I am called to figure out how to love you, too.
Mr. Phelps, your daughter argued before the court today that Matthew Snyder died at the age of 20 because of gay people in our country. She then continued to add how God punished Matthew Snyder and his family because his parents had divorced. Mr. Phelps, who exactly is your God? We both call ourselves followers of Christ but we seem to have met a different Jesus.
Jesus changed my life. The one who is my Lord and Savior taught me to love instead of hate. He told me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. He told me that all of the commandments boil down to two things - to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind and to love my neighbor as myself. I am reminded often that we do not get to pick our neighbors. Our neighbors are whoever come near us - like the man who was beaten by robbers and saved on the road by the Good Samaritan. Jesus told me that I cannot possibly judge another person because I have specks in my eye, too. Jesus taught me how to love all kinds of people - especially the people who seem to be lonely, lost or left-behind. Jesus calls me to love. Where, Mr. Phelps, do you get permission to espouse so much hatred in the name of Jesus?
Mr. Phelps, I do not believe God punishes people. I believe we sometimes have to lie in the beds we make for ourselves but I do not believe that God is a God of suffering and revenge. God does not test us. God does not kill our loved ones because of something we have done. We might see glimpses of this kind of a God in the Old Testament but I just don't see these actions or characteristics in Jesus.
You have come close enough to our church once. You stood outside, across the street at the Convention Center. Watching members of your church, especially children who are being taught to hate at such a young age, made my heart weep. I'm not eager for you to return, but I wish you could see the beauty I see each time I stand in our pulpit here. Every Sunday, I am blessed to see an extraordinary array of people, and I would not trade the diversity that is so apparent in this place for anything. My gay brothers and sisters have taught me how to love and how to offer so much grace. The fact that they are here in a denomination that often says something else humbles me to my knees regularly. They are Jesus to me - Jesus with arms wide open saying, "I'm willing to forgive and give you another chance."
Mr. Phelps, we lost another child of God way too early last week. Tyler Clementi died because he was bullied by people who took part of his life and exploited it. He was led to a bridge where he believed his only option was to jump because of people like you who choose to espouse judgment and hatred. Mr. Phelps, will you please stop? Will you please silently go into the hills of Kansas and be silent? Stop protesting. Stop espousing hatred. And if you cannot stop, then please do not call yourself a pastor of a church. Please, I beg you.
The justices have a hard case on their hands. Like many of them, I would be so cautious about limiting one's ability to speak. The First Amendment is what allows me to write this letter and to speak in many other places and formats. The freedom of speech is a precious gift. But, you are not only accountable to the court. You are accountable to a higher power - one who calls you by name, one who formed you in your mother's womb, one who loves you and calls you to do the same.
Mr. Phelps, I really cannot stand you. But, God loves you, and because God loves you, so do I. Will you please, please, please stop shouting, stop hating and try to love instead? Let go of the shackles and chains in which you have placed yourself and so many other people. Come to the other side and experience the goodness of Christ. Come and meet the Jesus I know and love.
Again, you are in my prayers,
P.S. If anyone else is reading this letter and wondering if all churches are like Westboro Baptist, let me assure you that they are not. I am grateful to serve a church where all people really are welcome - where we celebrate the diversity amongst us - where we are working hard to make sure that LGBT people are not only welcomed but affirmed and given access to every other blessing the church can offer. There are different churches that exist. Please do not think we are all like Westboro Baptist. Please!