Dateline: December 23, 1998
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Northern Illinois Conference, United Methodist Church
Now going directly to 22 states: CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, IL, IN, ID, KY, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NC, NY, OK, TX, WI
AN E-MAIL DIALOGUE WITH THE REVEREND FRED PHELPS
This exchange of letters began with an e-mail letter that was sent to Reverend Fred Phelps by Rev. Kent L. Svendsen who is the Northern Illinois Coordinator for the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church. It was written in response to the November 22nd picketing of the Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois, by Rev. Phelps and members of his church. Rev. Gregory Dell, the pastor of the Broadway United Methodist church, was recently brought up on charges by his denomination for performing a same-sex commitment ceremony in violation of church law. A recent Judicial Council ruling had declared that it was a chargeable offense to perform such ceremonies by the denominations ministers. Since the ceremony took place after that announcement and Reverend Dell performed the ceremony anyway, he is now facing a church trial. Reverend Phelps, who is the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas heard about the event through the news service and took it upon himself to come to Chicago to publicly demonstrate against the Broadway Church.
The Reverend Fred Phelps is also the minister who picketed the funeral of Matthew Shephard earlier in the year. Matthew Shephard was the young man from Wyoming who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence outside of town, and then left there to die. The reason for his death? Two criminal predators were looking for a victim and decided on choosing someone from the gay community on which to commit their crimes against society. Sadly, that kind of hatred and random acts of violence within our society has become more and more common in our nation today. Unfortunately instead of offering a message of Christian love, Rev. Phelps instead decided to use these events to promote his agenda based on Gods wrath and Gods hatred for all workers of iniquity. His tactics include carrying signs with slogans on them, which the average person would find extremely offensive. You have only to look at the name of his website, www.godhatesfags.com, to understand many of his views.
Authors note: Some editing has been done for purposes of clarification and the letters are all in chronological order.
THE FIRST EXCHANGE
Dear Rev. Phelps,
I am a United Methodist minister who believes in the authority of scripture. I also believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Those who share my beliefs in this matter are facing strong opposition by individuals who would deny that claim. Among them is the Rev. Gregory Dell, who is a member of the same United Methodist annual conference to which I belong. Rev. Dell is using your recent picketing to gain sympathy for his views, which in turn makes it even harder for those who are trying to promote righteousness within our denomination. There has even been an announcement that you are coming back again. That, in and of itself, has resulted in growing attitudes of sympathy from people who would otherwise not be supportive of him and what he has done. Question: Are you planning to come back to Chicago and if so, when? If in fact you have no plans to return, then I will challenge Rev. Dell concerning that statement.
Rev. Phelps, I don't know what you had hoped to accomplish by your picketing of Rev. Dell's church. As concerns our work here, it did nothing but harm our efforts to proclaim biblical holiness. Our United Methodist Reporter, which tends to lean strongly to the liberal viewpoint, used the majority of the front page to declare victory for the homosexual cause. Headline: Sundays score: Hate 8, Love 1000
Personally, I was so upset by your signs and slogans that I wanted to be in the group standing against you. I believe that God loves the person and hates the sin. I am a transforming pastor who believes that God can change the homosexual through the power of the Holy Spirit along with our care and love. My fear is that when they look at your signs, they will begin to believe that people like myself have that attitude also, and therefore wouldnt come to me for ministry.
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Westboro Baptist Church (Rev. Fred Phelps) wrote:
Why are you ashamed of the Word? Shame on you.
The days foretold by the prophets and the apostles (sometimes called the last days) are surely come upon us. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." 2 Tim. 4:3,4.
Those of you who are weary of the fables of this world's apostate religious and political leaders, and who hunger for the Word of Truth to be intelligently and faithfully portioned out with ultraprecise application to current events as they fall out to us day by day, (2 Tim. 2:15), will love the Gospel ministry of Westboro Baptist Church. From Topeka, Kansas, Sodom City U.S.A., where Satan's throne is (Rev. 2:13), the world will now hear and understand what may be God's Last Call.
Sodomites now control America, and the U.S. is now exporting soul-damning, nation-destroying sodomite culture with the explosion of electronic media to every nook and cranny of the inhabited Earth. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Lk. 13:3. We will deliver God's final ultimatum before the end. (This Dear Friends addendum ended each E-mail message that was sent and to save space it will not be repeated)
THE SECOND EXCHANGE
Rev. Svendsen Responded:
Thank you for responding to my E-Mail. Rev. Phelps, I am not ashamed of the Word. In fact, I take quite a lot of flack for standing strong in defense of Gods Word. The question is: Do you want to convert and transform homosexuals through the power of God or chase them completely away from the church? Your way will have them convinced that either there is no hope for salvation or that the Metropolitan Community Church is right in their theology.
I am in dialogue with a number of people dealing with same sex attractions. In my witness to them, I am just as strong in my presentation of the biblical truths as you are, only without beating them over the head with it. Most gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals already feel attacked, condemned, and degraded. They are willing to talk to me, because I show them Gods love and some will hopefully be wonderfully transformed through God's grace.
Remember that God will judge you as harshly as you judge others. You say that God hates the homosexual. Does God hate you because you are a sinner? God hates the sin of homosexual practice, but loves the person. God loves you and has a special plan for your life. Where does God's love fall into your theology?
Merry CHRISTmas and have a safe New Year Grace and peace to you.
Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Westboro Baptist Church (Rev. Fred Phelps) wrote:
You know very well that the Word clearly teaches that God hates all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:5). Jude clearly taught that there are 2 ways to bring someone to salvation - compassion, and fear. And we are to make a difference. You seem to claim that there is only one way - compassionate. That's a lie. I use both methods, depending on the situation.
THE THIRD EXCHANGE
Dear Rev. Phelps,
Thank you for responding to my E-Mail. I simply want to understand the reasoning behind what you are doing. If your desire is to see the homosexual repent and find deliverance through the transforming power of Jesus Christ, then we have the same goal. God does indeed "hate all workers of iniquity" and that is why I am fearful of being placed in that same category as you and being responsible for chasing people away from the altar. What the homosexual needs is to find God's healing love and forgiveness. This is especially true since many of them are in that lifestyle because of past abuse and neglect. I know this from my work as a biblical counselor.
You will probably agree with me that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", well, that also includes you and I. Jesus was often ridiculed and attacked for eating and drinking with sinners, which for many in the religious community of that day was the equivalent to acceptance of their lifestyles. Would you be seen eating and drinking with a group of homosexuals? I believe that Jesus would and that he would bring many to repentance. With all respect, that is why I take the approach that I do and not the one you have chosen. The old adage is true, you will always attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
When you say "there are only two ways to bring someone to salvation" will you give me the liberty to substitute the phrase: "bring them to repentance"? On the other hand, Jesus only taught one way to be saved and that is: "Ye must be born again". My evangelism instructor of many years ago told me that salvation was as simple as "repent and believe". He didn't say it was easy, just simple. Tell me, how many homosexuals have responded to your "God hates ****" signs by repenting and believing. If it really works, then perhaps God is using you to bring individuals to faith in Christ. I am sincere in this question and if it has worked for you, I would like to know.
I, on the other hand, am working with groups like "Transformed By Grace" and "Overcomers" out of Chicago which have been successful in changing orientation and also in bringing many to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. For my personal study and ministry, I am using material by Joe Dallas of Exodus International. That organization has been successful in helping many individuals leave the lifestyle and live a Christian life free of homosexuality. (For a list of some helpful references you can find them on my Northern Illinois web site at:)
I imagine you have experienced your share of hateful attacks and ignorant replies in response to your efforts. Believe it or not, so do I, and my approach is admittedly the compassionate approach. They use the word homophobia (I imagine you have been accused of that and so have I) so we use the word metamorphia (the fear that sexual orientation can be changed). The biggest obstacle we have in trying to bring transformation to their lives is the false (but deeply embedded) view that God created them that way and they cannot change. In fact, many would openly proclaim that God condemns you and I for trying to tell them they have to change in order for their lifestyle to be found acceptable by God. When you picket using your offensive signs, what happens is that it gives them the excuse to say: "See we are right and this guy proves we are right. Those that tell us we must change are not only wrong, but hateful and lacking in God's love. They are the sinners and not us." One good picture of you carrying a "God Hates F---!" sign is enough to convince thousands that they are right and you are wrong. Can you possibly understand how this can be the case?
I am in dialogue with and witnessing to several homosexuals and they sometimes pass along articles and material which give me a good view of what the homosexual community is saying and their educational plan to convince the public that they are right and we are wrong. You should keep on preaching the truth, but be aware that people cannot believe and repent if they are so offended by what they perceive is the message, that they are not willing to walk in the doors to even begin to listen.
Jesus is the reason for the season. As we near the celebration of Jesus birth may many be "born again" through your ministry this CHRISTmas season.
A Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ
Westboro Baptist Church (Rev. Phelps) wrote:
You know very well that no man can come to the Son unless the Father first draws him. And no man can pluck them out of His hand. So if you think that you or I or any other human on this earth is going to separate one of God's elect from God, you are sadly mistaken (see Romans 8). So please, don't accuse me of turning anyone away from God. You've already admitted that God hates all workers of iniquity (even though last time you said He loves everyone, and hates the sin but loves the sinner), so you know that I'm telling the truth when I preach that. Is God going to condemn me for preaching the truth? I think not. Is He going to condemn me for following what Jude taught? I think not. Is He going to condemn you for trying to stop me from preaching the truth? If you keep doing it, yes.
THE FINAL LETTER AND COMMENTARY
Dear Reverend Phelps,
I have officially responded to your actions according to the biblical directives. (Matthew 18:15-17) As is commanded in Matt. 18:15, I came to you in Christian love and showed you your fault. You refused to acknowledge that you were wrong in any way. So according to Matt. 18:16, I will share this E-mail with several brothers and sisters in the faith to "establish it by the testimony of two or three witnesses". Since you have been so public about your proclamations, this letter can stand as an open letter to the church (vs. 17) which consists of all "born again" believers.
Therefore, to me you are now a "pagan". You are one who has a form of religion, but knows not the love of Jesus Christ. You have harshly judged others using the Word of God and so now let God's holy word judge you. "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (I John 4:7&8) You have admitted by your own words that you are not trying to show them God's love. You are not inviting sinners to find forgiveness, but encouraging people to be filled with hatred and violent thoughts. You are in fact working against the kingdom of God and not proclaiming it. You are right in saying that God will not condemn you for "preaching the truth", but God may condemn you for not "preaching it in love". I see little evidence of the love of God in anything that you do.
Hear the words of Jesus as recorded in the Revelation to John. "Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet, you have a few people..who have not SOILED THEIR CLOTHES (the wedding garment). They (Those who have not soiled the wedding garment worn by those who are saved) will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will like them, be dressed in white. I will never BLOT HIS NAME FROM THE BOOK OF LIFE...." Rev. 3:4&5 Your name can be blotted out of the book of life! You think you cannot fall, because you once made a commitment to Christ. You are right when you say that no one is able to "pluck us out of God's hands", but we can certainly be "spit out of God's mouth". You think you are on safe ground and cannot fall. You attack and condemn others without mercy. What you are doing is in fact standing at the very gates of Hell and backing slowly in the door, as you grieve the Holy Spirit and push God's love away. If you want to stubbornly cling to the belief that one cannot lose one's salvation, then I would suggest that perhaps your original commitment was not to Christ at all but to something else, and here is the evidence that I offer to support that possibilty.
Jesus said: "By their fruit, you shall recognize them" (Matt 7:16) and those fruits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). Where are these fruits as they should appear in your ministry? You call others perverted and yet you have a perverted foundation for your ministry.
As I leave you to your own devices, I am pleading with you to repent and turn back to God. You are warning others of God's wrath against those who are unrighteous. Well, Rev.Phelps, you have now also been warned.
A Servant of Jesus Christ
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