Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Time to Mourn

Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church — you know, the one that said "God hates fags!"and made a name for itself picketing so many funerals — died today. Many of my friends and colleagues are discussing whether or not they feel compelled to forgive, or to mourn and his passing. Some say they hope he will rot in the hell he seem to so enjoy sending others too. Some say that hate should not be met with hate, and that the loss of any human being is a loss.

I find myself having a different response. I find that I greet the news of his death with a certain amount of relief — from here on out, Westburrough Baptist Church will not have Phelps' leadership to push it to ever greater depths. (It seems as though they don't really need his leadership, though, since they have even managed to find inspiration to vilify their leader in death. Apparently in his latter days he called for members of the congregation to at least treat one another more kindly. Even that expression of humanity, however small minded, seems to be too much for this "church" to bear.)

Yet I do find myself wanting to mourn. I mourn, not his death, but his life. I mourn the hatred he expressed, and the hatred he inspired. I mourn his example of a humanity so small, so scared, so unable, or so unwilling, to see the beauty of the whole. I mourn, too, the possibilities of a preacher who could so powerfully move people — what if he'd been preaching inclusive love rather than exclusive hate?

In Westboro's theology, God didn't just "hate fags." Several years ago, they produced a video in which they sang to the tune of "We Are The World" "a song that went "God Hates The World." (One of the scariest and sickest things I have ever seen, to be honest.)  I morn all those who had their theology, and their worldview, warped and twisted by this man's so-called teachings.

And of course, most of all, I mourn for all those whose lives were made that much more difficult, that much more painful, and filled with that much more fear, because of this man and his "ministry."

And so, today, I mourn. But I do not mourn Fred Phelps' death.  I mourn his life.

Pax Tecum,

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Cathy Finn-Derecki said...

Perhaps the hardest thing we are called on to do in this life is to imbue the people who do unthinkable things with humanity. We disown these folks as though they are separate from us, but they are not. Hitler was human, as were his followers. Fred Phelps was human, as are his followers. We share their DNA and share a piece of them in our very bones. So, the question is not what was wrong with Fred Phelps, but what is wrong with US that our love and compassion can allow for this phenomenon to exist in our world? I think we don't work hard enough in our own lives to make a better world, and a void is created that can be filled by any number of things: addictions, cults, materialism, hatred. The question is not what was wrong with this guy, but what more can we do to fill the void of this shared existence, day to day, with love and compassion so that the vacuum-abhorring nature we occupy does not find hatred as an alternative.

arthurrashap said...

I like Cathy's direction more than Erik's. If from each act, each existence, even one like Fred Phelps' and his followers, then what is the lesson? That there is still hate and ignorance in the world? That there are those who follow leaders and paths that "we" recognize as bad, evil? That we need to gear ourselves and those around us, and the future of humankind to a different path - one that this congregation (most of?) listens to and works to create?

Perhaps turning this "mourning" around to a quasi-celebration of how we can use our love and compassion to create a better world. Isn't that the underpinning I hear from the pulpit on Sunday's? Or am I creating just my overlay?
Arthur Rashap