Over the years the Westboro Baptist Church and it’s leader/founder Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., have become synonymous with hate speech. They’re the face of the stereotypical “homophobic Christian” through their protests at military funerals and any other venue that gives them an opportunity to promote their cause. So when Rev Phelps’ estranged son shared publicly that his father is “on the edge of death,” the natural response was to smile and start planning ways to get even. His disavowed son continued by saying “I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made”. To me there’s no irony about his god or beliefs by living a long life to 84 and dying peacefully in a hospital bed surrounded by loved ones. That’s not justice for this man.
Phelps and the members of his church have mercilessly and relentlessly “harassed” the grieving families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, not to mention all the military families who had nothing to do with their war against homosexuality. Justice for this man would be dying a slow painful death at the hands of AIDS or cancer or just being shot by one of the individuals who faithfully block the church from protesting at funerals. His church never shared the love of Christ. And he doesn’t deserve it now. He lived his life teaching others how to judge and condemn and hate on a level par excellence. They are the epitome of everything wrong with Christianity. This “minister of the truth” never preached peace and love the way his savior did. I don’t care where you stand on the debate about homosexuality as a lifestyle. This man doesn’t deserve peace as he slips from this world. His family and church that have supported his bigotry and hate for so many years, don’t deserve a moment of calm to remember their “loving patriarch” (what a joke). They don’t deserve a quiet funeral and a peaceful gravesite.
And that’s exactly why they should have it.
I wouldn’t blame a single person who showed up at Rev. Phelps funeral to protest; to tear away all the solemnity of the moment from the family. Thousands of yelling, hate filled, spiteful people wanting to spit on his grave would be poetic. But he doesn’t deserve that either. Returning the favor simply shows the impact that he had on this world through his blind ignorance. It acknowledges a legacy that deserves to slip from our memories and Wikipedia without the slightest blip. What he has promoted for so many years deserves no media coverage, no mentions on Twitter, Facebook, or the Huffington Post. Originally I thought that people should respectfully attend the funeral, hold signs of love and support for the family in an act of peace to show that they are better than what has been done to them. But even then it would recognize his influence.
What Fred Phelps truly deserves is beyond any of us to give him. This world is full of people who don’t get what they deserve. And as I sit and think about that I wonder, isn’t that the heart of the gospel? Many of the people who passionately wish to do something in response to his death are faithful believers. And if you believe in the gospel of Jesus, you know that we all deserve a lot worse than what we get through salvation.
As a faithful Christian I firmly believe that all the actions of this world will be sorted out in the next. That a greater power than myself has promised to make all things right. And it’s not my place to try to correct them myself. I believe in doing everything I can to live my life well and live it in a manner that leaves a positive impact on others. There are many I’ve come across in my life, many Christians, who don’t subscribe to that same philosophy. They live selfish, hypocritical, judgmental, and uncaring lives as they condemn more than they console. I have spent countless hours trying to undo the what other people within my own church have done to beat down others. Every time I want to physically retaliate much like many who joyously look to Fred Phelps death. But then I would be no better. I take solace in knowing the impact of Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa will ripple through eternity far greater than Fred Phelps. And I know that their example is the one this world really needs right now. Jesus would still likely shed a tear for Fred Phelps. He would put an arm around his family and console them with a broken heart. To say I wouldn’t do that makes me un-Christ-like.