Thursday, March 20, 2014

Death of a Hatemonger

When I heard that Fred Phelps, pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, had died a small, uncharitable part of me said, "Good.  It's about time."

I'm not proud of that.  I like to think that I don't actively hate anyone.  I don't preach hate, certainly not the way Phelps and his church did.  But I've thought more than once that Phelps is was one of those people the world would probably be better off without.  I didn't necessarily wish him dead, I just wished him gone.

I'm aware of how immature that is, how fantastical.  If the person is there, for him to be gone he has to die.  But can you believe me when I say there was no malice in that?

So now we have a world that is short one Fred Phelps, Sr.  Is the world a better place with Phelps gone?  I suspect it probably is.  It is only incrementally better, a very small increment.  But sometimes you have an incremental hurt like an ingrown hair or an infected eyelash.  Minor things, tiny things.  And yet they can be highly irritating and the instant they are gone you feel so much better.

Phelps' history is checkered.  As a Kansas lawyer he successfully fought for civil rights in many cases, but he also took on a personal vendetta against a court reporter, haranguing and defaming for his own reasons.  He was ultimately banned from practicing in Kansas courts but continued to represent cases in Federal courts, until another vendetta - against judges this time - got him disbarred from any kind of court.  That pretty much put an end to his legal career.

It's not really clear exactly what led him down this path of vitriol.  Several members of his family have quit both the church and the family.  Most of them cite both physical and emotional abuse.  Well, can't blame them for leaving.  The church's history of protesting military funerals and political activities in order to draw attention to "God's hatred of America" is pretty well known, unfortunately not just here in the US.  The church's reputation got Phelps and his wife placed on a permanent persona non grata list in the UK.

Ironically, in the last year or so Fred backed off his extremist views.  That put him on the outs with the WBC which, believe it or not, got him excommunicated from the church where he was the founding pastor.  Wow.  If you thought Phelps was intolerant, look at the intolerance he's inspired.

And now he's dead.  Ostensibly because members of the WBC do not "worship the dead" but possibly because they'd rather avoid any loud and unpleasant protests, there will be no funeral for Fred Phelps, Sr.

Rest in peace, Fred.  It isn't up to you to tell us who God hates, but for your own sake you'd better hope He forgives.

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