As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Reverend Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died last week.
There have been some pretty mixed reactions.
Some people are advocating forgiveness, or encouraging everybody to ignore what happened. Others are anxiously awaiting the day they can have a gay orgy on his grave to celebrate the death of the wicked witch of the midwest. Many fall somewhere in the middle, hoping to protest his funeral as he did to so many others, and frustrated that the WBC won’t tell people when or where it will be held (even though they did apparently demand that George Takei and Ellen Degeneres give up the locations of their “unholy” weddings).
And even though I’ve had a week to think on it since the news came out that Phelps was near death in the hospital, I still don’t know how I feel about it.
Fuck that guy, right? Fuck that guy and his family members that followed in his path. For the sake of all the people he hurt, I want to go picket his funeral and make his family feel alone and hated. I’m happy he’s dead and I wish the rest of them would die, too. I want Old Testament justice for what they’ve done.
That’s my gut reaction. If you don’t feel a little of it, I’m pretty sure you’re a Zen monk and you should get off the internet and start meditating again.
And I’m jealous of that. I don’t want to hate anybody. I don’t want to be happy that somebody died. I fancy myself a humanist; does that mean I’m supposed to be calm and collected and rational toward everybody? Maybe it means I can have these emotions so long as I don’t act on them. I don’t really know, so I’m rather conflicted.
At what point do I stop being an advocate for reason and activism and start being a member of a mindless, hateful mob? It’s tough to balance on a line when you don’t even know where it is.
It’s easy to feel righteous indignation sparked by images like this, even though it was posted long before Fred’s death:
Being a leader in the atheist community, I feel ashamed to admit that I can’t just let it go. I should be a role model of acceptance and compassion, but I’m torn. The WBC is made up of some of the most vile people in America… but they’re still people. People who grieve and mourn. I don’t know what I’d do if I found myself at the funeral with the options to ignore it or do my best to make it a horrible day for Fred’s family.
But it gets easier to dismiss the anger and focus on other things when posts like these start popping up:
And of course, articles like this where Nate Phelps speaks publicly and shows a strength in character I strive for.
Let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.
My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.
So take what you will from Fred Phelp’s death. Be angry or happy or inspired. Laugh at the memes and appreciate compassionate displays. There’s no right way to react to the death of a horrible person; just make sure it doesn’t consume you, because nothing has really changed. The WBC isn’t going away, and LGBTQ rights won’t magically appear. Don’t get hung up on one person when there are so many more ways your energy could be used.
Will I ever forgive and forget Fred Phelps? Absolutely not. But I won’t waste my time hating him, either. Instead, I’ll dust off those red shoes and watch out for flying monkeys at the next WBC protest.