A few days ago, I read that Pastor Fred Phelps was on his deathbed. ‘Oh boy’, I thought, ‘I had better be thinking about what to say when people react to his death with cheers and celebration.’
Such a response is understandable because Phelps caused tremendous pain—he was founder and leader of Westboro Baptist Church which is well-known for its public gay-bashing. These are the people we see on the news who who picket events, including the funerals of soldiers, carrying signs that say ‘God Hates Fags’ and other vile things.
The Responses Begin
Well, Phelps is now deceased; the world received the announcement on Thursday, and response was immediate. Some posted negative sentiments as expected (listed earliest first):
“I never thought I’d be so relieved to hear of someone die. And yes, that is a horrible, horrible thing to say. But Fred Phelps, leader of the hate-mongering God Hates Fags Westboro Baptist Church, is dead!” (NotParticularlyPauciloquent)
“Death doesn’t suddenly make horrible actions immaterial. No one mourns for Hitler, no one mourns for Pol Pot, no one should mourn for Bin Laden, and I will not mourn for Phelps…A bad person is dead, and that is a good thing. (10Cities10Years)
“Do Not Rest In Peace: Hateful Founder Of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, Dead” (Radar Online)
“Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the hate group known as the Westboro Baptist Church, is currently on an express elevator straight down to the welcoming arms of Satan. Let the celebration begin. (The Real Dave)
“Hell just received another soul.” (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)
Hate Doesn’t Defeat Hate; Love Defeats Hate
However, I was pleasantly surprised at how many bloggers responded with kindness instead of expressing more hate. I don’t necessarily recommend the following blogs because I don’t know them (listed earliest first):
“Like it or not, Fred Phelps was and his family remains my neighbor. I, for one, will offer to them what they have chosen not to offer to others: A word of condolence and blessing. May the friends and family of Mr. Phelps find blessing and comfort as they journey through grieving his passing…I choose not to return anger and hatred during their time of mourning. I choose not to be disrespectful and arrogant simply because they have chosen a lifestyle I simply cannot understand…I sincerely hope God gives Mr. Phelps the mercy he spent his life refusing to give others.” http://darrensthinking.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/weep-with-those-who-weep/
“Fred Phelps has passed. Uncle George (Takei) is a wise man. He’s so very right. Death is nothing to celebrate. Acting as Fred Phelps and the other members of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) doesn’t mean that “paybacks” are achieved but rather that we have lowered ourselves to the behavior we condemned the WBC for. It makes one a hypocrite.” http://4simpleliving.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/compassion-is-the-key/
“As a gay man, most people would think that I’d be the last person to chastise others for celebrating the death of the cult leading, fag hating, denim abusing Fred Phelps…But I can’t bring myself to celebrate his death. Fred was old and frail and his time was at hand. He didn’t die because you all wanted him to die…not because he deserved to die. And it is my personal belief that he is not spending his afterlife burning in hell like many of you would like him to do…I don’t know how he had the energy to commit to a faith that was based upon so much hate. Hate is a poison and how he could stand to ingest so much of it I’ll never know.” http://isthiswhyimstillsingle.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/why-we-shouldnt-be-celebrating-the-death-of-fred-phelps/
“People loathed Phelps for his hate and, now that he’s gone, they are expressing their own hate. I call shenanigans…Ultimately God is the judge of our souls. Rather than waste our time judging the condition of other’s souls and stewing in our own hate, let us strive to embody Christ’s character as best we can. That means even loving those the world believes to be the least-lovable.”
“In Mr. Phelps’s case, how is what he did (and his church most likely still doing) any different from what we’re doing? Yeah, we’re not picketing his funeral, but he was glad people were dying. And now we’re glad hes dead. Oh, the irony.” http://tertiarypropositions.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/on-the-passing-of-fred-phelps/
Adding My Voice to the Discussion
So rather than discourse on not returning evil for evil, I will simply add my voice to others.
The Father loves each of us and seeks our healing and reconciliation. In my opinion, Phelps was twisted and broken by his hateful beliefs. I assume Phelps taught as he did because he thought he was right about God and gays. Perhaps, as he encounters the Father he professed to follow and represent, he is already aware of his terrible error.
We all hurt others because of our imperfections and mistaken understandings; Fred Phelps is no different. May he receive the restorative love of the Father just as we anticipate that we will.