Fred Phelps led an army of haters, but Jacob Nordby shows how he revealed something important about making the world a better place.
Fred Phelps is dead. In case you haven’t seen his name before, he was the extreme Baptist minister who led a mob of hateful, angry people to picket the gravesides of soldiers and stand on street corners holding signs proclaiming that “God Hates Fags“.
In our polarized country, it is hard to find a more radical case of religious bigotry than this man who founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.
Famous Star Trek actor and openly gay social activist, George Takei, made a powerful statement yesterday after learning that Fred Phelps is lying on a bed near the brink of death:
“I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding “God Hates Fred” signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.”
– George Takei
Mr. Phelps has whipped America into a frenzy of hatred. Many have joined his causes, raging against what they see as the erosion of Christian values. Others have formed ranks against him and his clan, flinging epithets across the no-man’s-land which separates them.
In Takei’s words, I find the great lesson Fred Phelps has unwittingly worked so hard to illustrate.
There are two forces in our world, fear and love. We will never drive out fear and hatred with more of the same.
Oddly enough, in the very book Fred Phelps claimed to defend, you can read these words:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
It is difficult to see how a man who believed so strongly in his Bible can ignore what is its most important message.
Perfect love casts out fear. Everything Fred Phelps led his group to do is drenched in fear. There is no fear in love.
In the crazed messages his followers spread, there is little but fear–fear of anything which falls outside their beliefs, fear of destruction at the hands of groups like Jewish people, gay people or liberal people.
It is hard to stand by and watch this small but vocal army of haters waving signs which insult the freedom of choice we hold dear. They seem to do nothing but inflame an already wounded nation into more conflict.
Having said that, I believe that the Westboro Baptists and their dead leader are serving a vital purpose in our world. They are showing us in vivid color exactly why repression, violence and fear no longer work. They are demonstrating exactly why it has become imperative that we stop drawing lines in the sand and screaming at each other.
We can thank them for bringing to the surface all those unsaid words and feelings. Once expressed, they allow us all to stand back in horror at the potential for fear in ourselves–and the kind of destructive, violent reactions these things bring forth in moments of darkness.
We love to hate the Hitlers and Fred Phelps’s of the world, but they are only reflections of what lies in the collective unconscious. When we all see ourselves in this mirror, we can learn a better way. We can learn love.
We owe thanks to the open-hearted leaders like George Takei for seeing beyond what could be taken as personal attacks and offering instead a gift of compassion rather than hatred.
Can we do this, humanity? Can we put down our weapons and choose something different for ourselves?
If we can, the world will be a better place.
How we respond (or react) to the eventual death of this leader is an excellent test of whether we can or not.
We have Fred Phelps to thank for serving up such a stark and worthy trial of our ideals.
Fred Phelps died at age 84 before midnight on Wednesday, March 20, 2014.
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