According to my New King James Version bible, there are definitive steps that must be followed relative to how a church disciplines a member of its congregation for falling off the path of righteousness.
Putting aside for the moment the point or points of contention with a member’s conduct that would warrant church intervention in such a manner, here is an overview of the prescribed steps that should be followed when disciplining a church member:
There are several distinct steps to church discipline. First, meet one-on-one with the person. Second, if necessary meet with the person and another church member. Third, if there is no change in behavior, announce the matter to the congregation so that the whole church can corporately encourage the person to repent. Finally, if all else fails put the sinning person out of the assembly (Matthew 18: 15-17)
The goal of church discipline as outlined above, is to cause the sinning person to repent (James 5: 19,20), gain back or restore an erring believer (Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1), and to make the person feel ashamed enough to change (2 Thessalonians 3:14).
Nowhere in the bible did I read that one should resort to carrying derogatory signs making statements such as God Hates the U.S.A. and Thank God for Dead Soldiers as a means of correction or discipline. In short, Westboro is the defacto Christian version of Islamic Fundamentalism or extremism.
I say this with sincere sadness, as it is a precipitously narrow line one walks when they choose to take a stand in terms of expressing their position relative to the faith conduct of another individual or group of individuals. However, and try as I might, there is no redeeming value associated with the Westboro denizens actions as it neither leads to repentance or a healing of a broken relationship. In fact, their protests against our fallen war heroes who willingly put themselves in harms way, and paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, isn’t even directed at the appropriate parties.
Ultimately what demonstrates the Westboro disconnect is found in 1 Corinthians 13:13, So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. It is indeed safe to say beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no love in the words of chastisement of Christian values gone awry. However, and what is most disconcerting about Fred Phelps’ Westboro group, is that it seems to be following a similar pattern to both David Koresh and Jim Jones in that each viewed themselves as the definitive harbinger of God’s word and pending judgment.
I truly hope that our gracious moderator and voice of reason behind the 49th Parallel Forum, Alex Armstrong, can persuade Westboro’s Phelps to come on the show to clarify the logic behind his divisive and destructive actions, as well as those of his followers.