A while back, I quit mentioning Fred Phelps and Westborough Baptist Church on the advice of a friend who said all they wanted was attention and by giving it to them, we were playing into their hands. It made sense to stop then. Today, however, it makes sense to mention them again because, according to reports from estranged family memebers, Fred Phelps is dying. In case you live under rock, Phelps is the founder and former leader of Westborough Baptist Church (the “God hates f**s” people). There are more than a few people saying that we should forgive him and pray for him and his family. And, we should; as followers of Christ, it’s the least we can do.
Not everyone agrees with this, of course. There are a lot of people out there who’ve been hurt, either directly or indirectly, by Phelps and company or people just like them. But, remember, the folks at WBC are losing a father, grandfather, uncle, spiritual leader, etc. I speak from experience when I say that’s a tough place to be.
I find myself wondering, beyond prayer, what is a good Christian response to the death of a man who caused so much pain and suffering for others? For the record, I don’t sit around wondering what the “proper Christian response” to a given situation might be; believe it or not, I actually have a life (such as it is). But, I am asking that question this morning because of I’ve seen several social media posts hoping for a picket of Phelps’ funeral. A few advocate doing so as a way of extending grace and forgiveness to a group that denied both to a lot of people. You might find this strange, but I disagree.
I disagree with this idea because, as Olivia (my daughter) said this morning, “You don’t do that (picket) ‘in love’. It just doesn’t work that way”. Plus, and maybe I’m being cynical here, but I detect a note of condescension in the rush to show grace to Phelps and his family. It feels like there is an undertone whispering “We’ll be so sweet, sugar won’t melt in our mouths. That’ll show those assholes who the real Christians are. ” It’s like what Paul said in Romans 12, but on steroids. And, out of context.
If you want to extend grace to the Phelps’ and the folks at Westborough Baptist Church, leave them alone. Don’t tell them you’re sorry for their loss or anything else you might think of. They didn’t ask for it, they don’t think they need it and would think you have ulterior motives. Sadly, in a few cases, they’d be right.
As for picketing the funeral, I’m not saying whether you should or not; that has to be your decision. But, it would be nice if you didn’t say call it a “Christian response” because it’s not. Showing up at someone’s funeral with a sign is shitty. It’s shitty when they do it others, it would be shitty if anyone did it to them