How should the LGBT community respond to the (eventual) death of Fred Phelps?
William S. Burnett writes:
We’ll leave aside the question of the relationship between God and the “fags.” Using people’s funerals is a horrible way to communicate your beliefs to a wider audience. I don’t personally think that’s what was meant by “freedom of speech” or “freedom of assembly” in our Constitution. But I’m neither a Constitutional lawyer nor a judge, so I’ll leave that alone. I’ll just say that the expression of their hate knew no boundaries! In the Catholic community, we would call that “pastoral insensitivity” at the least; but I think “pastoral insensitivity” is a big understatement!
Over the years, I had been incredibly incensed by Fred Phelps, Sr. and his clan, both as a queer and as a Christian. As a queer, I was incensed because I was the primary target of their vehemence; and, because in their hate, they were trying to project an ugly, evil image of me that was far removed from who I was. As a Christian, I was incensed because they made Christianity look hateful and vile. In the process, they were trying to force a wedge between who I am and what I believe.
I read a lot of celebratory commentary on the internet, today, in response to the news of Fred Phelps’ demise; and I read calls to picket Phelps’ funeral when that day comes, just so they can see what it feels like to have your funeral protested. That disheartens me, and I say, “no!” I know they were heartless when they protested people’s funerals. But are we really like them? Are we heartless too? The Phelps family will be grieving. Let them grieve privately. It’s the humane thing to do. We’ll have plenty of chances to get back at them later.
My response comes as both a Christian and as a queer. As a Christian, I had consistently made, over the years, the observation that the Phelps’ family were not correctly representing Christianity. We were called to love and to evangelize, not to hate. If I were truly called by Jesus Christ, then I was called to live and to love in the way Christ called me to. I’m still called that way now. Would Christ act in angry spite at someone’s funeral? I hardly think so. Neither should I. This is our opportunity to have the truly Christian compassion for the Phelps family that the Phelps family did not have for others.
As a queer, I have read assertions, over the years, that the hate spewed by the Phelps’ family and their Westboro Baptist Church was proof that Christians are not the loving humanitarians they try to present themselves as being; and that queers know better how to love, empathize and honor people in their vulnerability. In other words, being an honest-to-goodness humanitarian is better than being a Christian. To my fellow members of the LGBT community, I would say now is the perfect time to prove that. Do you really want to reinforce the ugly claims the Westboro Baptist Church has made about you or do you want to take this opportunity to show you’re better?
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