These Twisted Stories – Phelps and Driscoll


Two prominent tales are being played out in the culture of American Christianity right now. They appear unrelated, but I believe they are intimately connected to one another, and highlight the cognitive dissonance we struggle with in regards to religion.

Fred Phelps, the founder and patriarch of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and the “God Hates Fags” street preacher campaigns died today. Over the years, I have had a few encounters with their “ministry.” I have run into them at Gay Pride Parades in San Diego, and witnessed the crowd response of anger. I have been involved with groups of people attempting to block their protests at funerals.

Fred Phelps was the poster child for one of the primary reasons people feel that Christianity is disconnected from cultural development, and why it exemplifies the kind of prejudice and hatred we are told to expect from religion.

Concurrently with Phelps failing health and his death today, Mark Driscoll is making news at the same time. Mark Driscoll has been caught up in accusations of abuse of leadership, plagiarism, and buying his way onto the NYT bestseller list. He has been called out for misogynistic teachings, crude language from the pulpit, and demeaning comment about fellow religious leaders.
Phelps’ protests at soldier’s funerals, and Gay Pride Parades; and Driscoll’s self-promotion, and crudeness from the pulpit seem to have no connection at first glance, but I believe today is a day we can begin to see the death of the death of the church.

What I mean by that double negative is this: Every so often the church needs to die to some sense of religious impropriety and dark behavior, which we have come to expect in it, but there are seasons when it is time for the Phoenix to rise from the ashes, and we see the season of death to give way to a new birth.

My hope is that we are close to the end of a decades long process of death, and are nearer a resurrection. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of its own demise; may we find a new season of church life coming upon us soon.

This is neither a condemnation against Fred Phelps (whom I hope will somehow still find the grace of God), nor Mark Driscoll (whom I hope will find the path to health). Rather this is the simple acknowledgement that both stories speak to the anger our generation holds toward religion, and both stories speak to the need for reform.

I was born on Martin Luther’s birthday. I wish I had his capacity for changing religion.

4 thoughts on “These Twisted Stories – Phelps and Driscoll

  1. Hi, Phil, I appreciate your sentiments but suggest that the healing of Christianity is no longer in the cards. If Revelation 18 is a description of the process we are seeing on the ground now… massive numbers of folks leaving the institutional church … then we’ve already passed the era of reform. The Vine of the Earth is rotten… “We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed. Forsake her…”

    Clearly some are dropping Christian pretenses, but many are finding Jesus away from the institutional church. And I think that’s a good thing. Guys like Driscoll and Phelps aren’t just negative because of their quirks, but because of the basic content of their theology — the notion that God is planning to send to hell everyone who dies without conversion. And because mainstream Christianity for almost 200 years has looked its doors against anyone who believes in a more hopeful gospel, a good news for everyone, a promise of future grace and restitution for all mankind … the orthodox church is on the wane and will continue to be, in my opinion, until there is nothing left and it disappears “into the sea”.

    1. Thanks Owen,

      I certainly identify with your concerns about Christianity as impossibly unredeemable. I disagree with that assumption that everything attached to “Organized Christianity” is unredeemable though. The religion Jesus speaks for and sought to establish is something that transcends this world. The people of God are to be found marbled throughout the world in every setting.

      The denominations established for Christian gathering are often started on perfectly noble grounds, and go astray through years of political manipulation, but often re-correct themselves with people who arrive as reformers to the system. I am not convinced Revelation 18 is upon us at this moment, and so I see every fall of the reputation of “Organized Christianity” as having a potential for re-establishing a death and re-birth of the reputation for the Church. After all, the death and resurrection of Christ is a model of how we all ought to live, and I believe that has ramifications for our corporate life as well. This is not to say I have hope for all denominations, but then again – miracles are possible. 🙂

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