National media is running with the story (not that that means anything necessarily) that 84 year-old Phelps has been “excommunicated” from his own church and is very near death. Given the highly litigious history of the church , I’ll refrain from guessing (publicly, at least) what kind of deathbed confession would be shocking enough for the virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church to cast out their founder – if it’s true.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a WBC Protest, but when they actually show up (they often make a big deal about coming somewhere and then are nowhere to be seen), there’s usually just a couple of them with signs, and they usually get the hell out of Dodge within minutes. When I was in college, exactly ONE of them showed up just off the property of my school with a little sign. She bailed in minutes, staying around just long enough to grab some media coverage.
More recently, the WBC announced that they were going to protest a local soldier’s funeral in my town. Even here in my extremely conservative, very Southern Baptist town, there were mobs of people ready to give them a greeting they would not soon forget. Wisely, they never made their promised appearance. I don’t know if they showed up and saw what was waiting for them and thought better, or just didn’t come in the first place.
Really, though, that’s the problem with people like the Westboro Baptist Church: They want attention. Desperately. Confronting them is emotionally satisfying, but it just gives them more of what they need. The church – and some theorize it’s not any kind of church, and actually the whole thing is just a scam – is funded through lawsuits based on infringements of their civil rights. “Funded” is actually understatement: They make a hefty profit. Many of the church’s members – nearly all of them related by blood to the Phelps clan – are attorneys
I used to think about how much fun it would be to charter a bus to go and protest (and by that I mean publicly “celebrate”) Fred Phelp’s funeral when the time came for him to shuffle off this mortal coil. I have since changed my mind. Indifference will be a far better insult to Phelp’s legacy than any kind of vengeance I could dream up.
For a man unloved and singularly unremarkable save for his hatred, the deafening silence of the public he so hoped in life to enrage will be a most suitable funeral dirge. May his memory be buried in obscurity as deep and as impenetrable as the Earth that will one day – maybe soon, maybe not – cover his physical remains.