|Phelps and his signature picket signs.|
Anger, rage, disgust - I've certainly felt those things, but hatred, no. No human being has ever pushed me over the edge of that dangerous precipice. If anyone got me close though, it was Pastor Fred Phelps.
Since the 1998 Westboro Baptist picket of Matthew Shepard's funeral, I've been periodically obsessed with my near-hate for Phelps and his entire nutcase "God Hates Fags" clan. My loathing for Westboro and Phelps has never been all-consuming, mostly because I manage to forget about them a few days after each whorish media-grabbing funeral picket. But like God's own demented mafia, each time I think I'm free, their carnival specter makes internet headlines again, and they pull me back in.
This morning Westboro was in the news for very different reasons. According to Nate Phelps, one of the pastor's estranged sons, Fred Phelps was ex-communicated from his own church last August. Even more interestingly, the aging Phelps is on his deathbed in a Kansas hospice.
Now, after more than fifteen years of fiery loathing, you'd think my feelings about this news would be clear. Ding-dong, the witch is almost dead. But it's not like that. Instead, the news that Fred Phelps is near death leaves me confused. As much as I might like to stand on internet hilltops and sing the "good news" at the top of my lungs, that feels all wrong to me.
When I was younger, I imagined proudly picketing Phelps' funeral. I pictured his teary family mourning their beloved hate-mongering mentor at the gravesite, and me ten or twenty yards away, holding a smarmy fluorescent picket sign. "Hey Fred, Tell Satan to Leave the Light On For Me." Something like that. But now that the moment is near, and Fred is finally about to shuffle off this mortal coil, the idea of protesting at Phelps' funeral has lost its appeal. It feels, well, mean.
I've spent the morning thinking about my options, other ways I might mark the miserable life and hateful times of Fred Phelps, and I think I've figured it out. I've decided that I will protest, but not the way Westboro does.
I'll protest by learning more about someone with whom I vehemently disagree.
I'll protest by not judging someone who is different from me.
I'll protest by keeping an open mind when I don't understand.
I'll protest by keeping an open heart when I feel afraid.
When Fred Phelps dies, I'll protest alright, by being exactly the kind of person whose funeral would be picketed by the wicked pastor and his pitiable Westboro Baptist family.