Before Someone Drops a House on You

I’ve long had a theory about Fred Phelps: He didn’t really hate gay people.

Well, ok, he probably did. But not to the degree that his antics would lead one to believe. He was probably homophobic in the same way that a lot of people are homophobic…in a passive way that is mildly accepted by much of popular culture (which is a whole ‘nother post) but you don’t see all of those mainstream haters pounding the pavement with these ugly signs, and forming an abusive cult around their ideology. What set this lawyer/pastor apart from the rest of his ilk? My theory is that, long ago, he found a platform that got him into the public eye in a big and distinctive way. And he ran with it.

What was his motive? Fame? Power? Money? I could not even field a guess. And I am fully willing to admit that I might be wrong. Like I said, this is just a theory. A what if…

And IF I’m right… Does that make his behavior somehow ok? Or at least better? Hecks no. His words and actions were deplorable, whatever their intent. But what it does point to is this truth: hate, whether real or contrived, is magnified when you give it air time.

I’ve been proud of the many church folks and friends around me calling for a gracious nod to this man’s passing, and not a loud and hateful protest–as he would have produced. I wholeheartedly agree. This is a chance for true Christian witness to rise above the rhetoric of a vocal minority with hate in their hearts. Send love in that general direction, and let’s be done with it.

Except…then, can we really be done with it?

Anyone can call themselves a Church. But the Westboro folks are not so much a church as they are a family. One family, with maybe a few friends and second cousins come to sit for dinner.  If the media machine will stop following them around and sharing the LATEST HORRIBLE THING that they are plotting, (are we really supposed to still be surprised?) then they will just drift away on the wind.

I mean…without cable news and social media, would YOU have ever heard of them?

My friend Lara once said that the WB crowd–and others like them–are like Voldemor…. (Sorry! He who Shall Not Be Named!)The more you say their name, the more power they acqure.

So…I reckon a bit of sacred silence around this man’s life and passing would not be the worst thing in the world.

Even for those dancing a little “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” jig right about now, I’ll remind us all… the spirit of hate is still alive and well in the world. Lest we forget…he was always, ever, only one man.  Granted, he was a loud one. But still, just a person. Tragically flawed and misguided, to be sure. But whether it is contrived for publicity and book sales, or at work in the hearts of angry people, the hate that tortured him still moves among us. We can answer it with love, and then walk on by.

It need not always be the headline.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.


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  • Rebecca Trotter

    I too think that hatred of homosexuals was mostly a means to what he saw as a greater end. But I doubt it was fame or money or necessarily attention he was after. I think the real answer is actually quite sad. I didn’t know the man, but I seriously suspect that his real end game was to show himself as the most faithful. Westboro is one of those churches which sees itself as the lone holder of saving truth. There is one truth and they are the only ones faithful enough to stand by it, come what may.

    For all practical purposes, Fred Phelps was a raving hater of gays. But sadly, I think hatred of GLBT people were just accessories in his quest to be the most super faithful Christian of all. Which, even more sadly, shows the depths of his alienation from God. The poor man spent his whole life trying to be good enough not to be rejected by a God he knew nothing about.

    I always wonder what it’s like for such people when their eyes are opened and they can see a God who is so much better than they ever imagined alongside their own lives which are so much worse than they ever imagined. Wailing and gnashing of teeth, I would guess.

  • Nathaniel

    Based on the profiles I’ve read of him, Fred Phelps never struck me as terribly complicated. He was at his most happy when he felt opposed and hated. The more hatred and opposition he met, the more proof of his own purity and righteousness.