Stronger than Hate
Rev. Erik Wikstrom serves as Settled Minister at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist, Charlotsville, VA. The Blue Boat occasionally re-posts from his blog, A Minister’s Musings. Here are Rev. Wickstrom’s reflections on the death of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church.–Ed.
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 seemed 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, Westboro 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 mourn 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.