Fred Phelps is knocking on death's door. His son released a statement this weekend saying he was dying and also that he had been excommunicated from the church he founded. I wondered what it would take to be excommunicated from Westboro Baptist, the only thing I could come up with is he softened. It happens sometimes. When you start realizing that bell tolling is tolling for you and maybe just maybe those pearly gates you've always imagined are going to be locked when you get there. He wouldn't be the first bitter old man to have a late in life conversion.
Since the announcement I've read a variety of status updates about his eminent passing. Some of them taking the high road, "we can't celebrate or it will make us as evil as he is" some not as high, "I hope he is right about heaven and hell because I want him to burn." And I will say that when I read he was dying my first thought was "Yes!" because I had foolishly assumed that once he passed the church would pass along with him. But when I read that he had been out of the church since August of 2013 I realized that was just a wish on my part. Not reality.
I don't have a general dislike of the man or his church. Not a vague sense of what they do is wrong. Obviously I don't agree with their messaging. I grew up in a very religious household and even if I had stayed with the church I wouldn't agree with Westboro Baptist or their message, but it's not general or vague. It's personal.
As most of you know WB threatened to picket Jack's funeral. So I can speak to what it feels like to have that looming over you while you are already dealing with more heartache than normal. They didn't come. They didn't have to. That's the way terrorism works. Just the threat of it is enough. And believe me they are terrorists.
I was furious when we got the news that they were coming. And I was torn. Because part of me wanted to argue with them. To use their own book against them. To take their picket signs and break them over their heads. But that's what they want. They have lawyers in their family just to sue people for such things. Antagonize, terrorize, sue.
They didn't come. But the Patriot Guard did. And I got the chance to hug a few members and thank them for what they do for families in our situation. And that meant a lot to me. And I think to them. One of the guys got all flustered. "It's just the right thing to do", he told me.
And that's the real point of things like Westboro Baptist. They show us that there are more people out there willing to do the right thing than we realize. How many people are willing to stand up and say, "This isn't right." For the 20 people in his church/family that he spread his vile poison to there were thousands more that realized how wrong he was. Not just in how he was spreading his message but in his message all together. When you get a chance to see what the end result of a hate message is, it changes things.
How many people had to re-examine their own beliefs about homosexuality when they saw how quickly, "The Bible says..." morphs in to "God HATES Fags?" How many people stopped automatically fearing the guy on the motorcycle after going to a funeral, or seeing one on TV where they lined the street and protected the family? How many people realized that religious extremists don't represent an entire religion?
Maybe Fred Phelps actually did more to advance the cause for equality than he did to stop it?
And maybe he knows that right about now.
And if he does I hope it burns. I hope it burns a lot.
I'm not quite ready for the high road...