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Disgraceful, Self-Proclaimed Christians

If the Honor Court at Virginia Military Institute determines that a student has violated the school’s code of conduct, he is officially “drummed out of the corps” in the middle of that very night. Now and again, true followers of Christ might wish for a similar ceremony to distance themselves from groups who call themselves Christian, but whose actions are so outlandish and despicable that they shame the Church.

Two such groups figure prominently in the news at the moment. The first, Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, has a long record of vile speech. Pastor Phelps has led this independent church, made up primarily of his family members, to picket the funerals of returning U.S. war dead. Because he objects to the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, he feels obliged to torment bereaved relatives with signs reading “Thank God for dead soldiers.” One grieving father has sued Phelps at great expense, but to no avail.

The second group is the Hutaree of southern Michigan. These self-proclaimed “Christian warriors” were plotting to murder police officers in hope this would ignite a general uprising against civil authority. Somehow, they’ve determined that the U.S. government is the Antichrist’s chief agent on earth and that it needs to fall. Now in custody, they still profess to be servants of the Lord, though their actions have certainly been gratifying to the Lord’s Ancient Foe.

Of course, it would be a mistake for believers to distance themselves from all churches who become “public relations disasters.” Indeed, the true Church is always a “public relations disaster” in the sense that the world finds the cross and all it entails an offense. Opposition is automatic when the faithful are on track. But then there are those who give needless offense by their atrocious behavior—and count themselves martyrs when the culture pushes back.

The Church does not need this. Neither does it need those so desperate to ingratiate Christianity to its critics that they countenance doctrinal and moral compromise. They can be as shameful, in their own way, as Phelps and the Hutaree are in theirs.

In 1 Corinthians 4:10, the Apostle Paul calls himself and his readers “fools for Christ.” Nowhere does he suggest that the saints should also be “boors, felons, or hypocrites for Christ.”