Why We Should Actually Be Thankful for Fred Phelps’ Life
Fear not — I’m not about to go on a tirade about the alleged sinfulness of homosexuality or the moral pit into which this country is supposedly falling by gradually accepting it. I find the beliefs and actions of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to be just as nauseating as the next person. But instead of using Phelps’ death to reflect on a life of veritable wickedness and hatred, I believe we should examine the vast (albeit indirect) positive impact he’s had on the world
As you likely know, Fred Phelps was the founding pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The church has made national news for its staunch opposition of homosexuality and abortion, expressing itself through the vocally virulent (but physically peaceable) protesting of funerals and other high-profile events. They hold up signs with messages like “God Hates Fags” and “Pray for more dead soldiers.”
The Westboro Baptist Church soon became infamous for their tactics and hostility. But what they spawned in the rest of the country was something that had, until then, been fairly elusive. People were truly united against Westboro. People of every different walk of life came together to counter-protest WBC at funerals. When Westboro shouted “God hates fags,” people responded with, “God loves everyone.” The Patriot Guard Riders, an organization dedicated to the appreciation of American soldiers, began showing up at funerals with motorcycles, using themselves and American flags to shield military funeral ceremonies from the protestors. Hell, even the Ku Klux Klan counter-protested Westboro, claiming that WBC had gone too far and were “hatemongers.” Yes, one of the most hateful organizations in our nation’s history joined the ranks of people opposed to such hate.
So today, we should remember Fred Phelps not as the man who showed the worst side of humanity, but as the man who inadvertently brought out the best. It’s troubling that two hundred people feel so much hatred and judgment, but it’s inspiring to think that hundreds of millions of people have felt compelled to voice their disapproval of such hate. I hope Fred Phelps’ tortured soul finds peace in the afterlife, but more importantly, I hope we don’t forget how much we care about our fellow human beings when it really matters.