The recent death of Fred Phelps, the infamous anti-gay activist and leader for many years of the independent Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, is perhaps an appropriate occasion to reflect on the damaging way the media reinforced and amplified an already misleading stereotype of what Christians in the public square are like. He provided a certain shock value for those who couldn’t resist the temptation to exploit him as a caricature of a relationship between faith and politics that they objected to. The fact that all kinds of Christians belong to churches that take progressive stands on many issues just does not seem to be as interesting.
The wrath of the biblical prophets was often directed at those who enjoyed the inequality of their riches while ignoring the needs of the vulnerable at the other end of the economic scale. One of the earliest of such prophets was Amos, who condemned those who oppress the poor and crush the needy. According to biblical scholar Walter Bruggeman, Amos was protesting against the “self-indulgent economy of the urban elite.” In statements made both before and after he became Pope, it is clear that Pope Francis sees the prophetic tradition as integral to his understanding of what it means to be a good pastor of the flock.