It’s been reported that Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, Sr. died yesterday. He was 84.
Phelps and his church became famous for their conservative Christian ministry based, primarily, on hatred of LGBT people. The term ‘hatred’ in this context is not intended to be polemic. The Church’s website. their media releases, and many of the picket signs they displayed in their protests at military and other funerals feature the word ‘hate’ along with a euphemism for LGBT people very prominently.
I hope people, especially LGBT people, will behave with compassion toward the Phelps family. Some seem eager to make the point that the Phelps’ family have not earned our compassion. In their protests and media releases the Westboro folks chose to celebrate the deaths of people killed by violence, illness, and in military service. The Phelps family’s compassion for the families grieving those losses was nowhere to be found. Why should we, now, extend the compassion to the Phelps family that they so publicly and joyfully denied others in times of loss? Why should the Phelps family not ‘reap what they have sown’?
I can think of a couple of reasons. First, I don’t believe anyone ‘earns’ compassion. Compassion is something we have for others because it is what decent, caring human beings do. The members of the Phelps’ family appear to be bereft of compassion. I like to think that I am not. Secondly, what’s the alternative? If we adopt the tactics we so abhorred in Reverend Phelps and his followers, what are we doing except following his example? He was not a role model for me. I’m not ‘that guy’.
Samuel Beckett wrote;
“The tears of the world are a constant quantity.
For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops.
The same is true of the laugh.”
I don’t think that needs to be true of hatred. There is a little less hatred in the world today. Let’s take comfort in that. We shouldn’t rush to fill the void.
After Matthew Shepard was killed, Westboro’s website started featuring a counter that incremented daily. The caption indicated it was the number of days Matthew Shepard had “… been burning in Hell”. I don’t know if I believe in Hell. Reverend Phelps claimed that he did. In any case, I won’t be putting a Phelps-in-Hell counter on my blog. I don’t want people to be reminded of Fred Phelps every time they visit Harper’s Valley. Even more importantly, I just don’t want to be ‘that guy’.