Rising above Hate: Learning from Fred Phelps

godspeedIt was announced early Thursday morning that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist “Church,” had died. According to a post on Facebook by his estranged son Nate this past weekend, the elder Phelps had been in very poor health for some time. Rumors circulated, and were later confirmed, that Fred Phelps had been excommunicated from the Westboro Baptist “Church” in 2013, for advocating a “kinder approach between church members.”

The patriarch of one of the most hateful groups in America has died. And while we can all be assured Shirley Phelps-Roper and her small band of bigots will continue their legacy of abuse, at least a few members of the Phelps family are firmly aligned against the message of the Westboro Baptist “Church.” Nathan Phelps, who fled the “church,” is a speaker and author on religion and child abuse, and a staunch LGBT advocate. In 2013, Megan Phelps and her sister, Gracie, announced they had left the “church,” garnering support from many, and ire, hate, and threats of eternal damnation from Fred Phelps’ daughter, Margie. Megan went on to be photographed for the NOH8 campaign.

And all over the internet, people are rejoicing in the death of Fred Phelps. Plans to picket his funeral-revenge, I suppose for all the funerals the WBC picketed-are popping up. Not everyone is rejoicing, however, and those are the things I’d like to focus on. Mark Sandlin, pastor, poet, and founder of The God Article, wrote a profoundly moving poem about Phelps in March 18. Upon learning Phelps was dying in hospice, George Takei wrote:

I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, not stand vigil at his funeral holding ‘God Hates Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.

Fred Phelps and his family brought people together with their rabid hatred. Maybe it was the LGBT community, standing together in support of Matthew Shepard’s parents, or ordinary citizens, wearing angel costumes, shielding mourners at a funeral. Bikers, truckers, police officers, Christians, Atheists, you name it-the vile message of the Westboro Baptist “Church” linked strangers, arm in arm. So, I say long live Fred Phelps. Long live the unity he and his “church” brought into our hearts, long live the people who stood against him, long live the love that wins out every, single time.

Long live my friend, Elizabeth, who came up with a brilliant idea. Instead of protesting at Phelps’ funeral, or exacerbating the hatred, do this:

To all of my friends and family who are disgusted by the actions of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, please consider donating, even if just a couple of bucks to an organization of acceptance and tolerance in the name of Fred Phelps upon his passing. We donated in his name to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation, to honor Matthew and what he went through and I can’t think of a better way to help mend the hate he, his family and his makeshift religion created. Just think of the impact we could collectively make for tolerance if we could get this to go viral? Who’s in?

I’ll make it easy for folks who want to donate to a worthy cause: links will be posted at the bottom of this article. We’re donating to The Trevor Project.

Look, I get get it. This was (at least, allegedly up to last year), a monster. He led a crusade against the LGBT community, he and members of his family tried to protest the victims’ funerals in Newtown, but were thwarted by a massive outpouring of love from so many people, including a group a bikers. Their signs were obscene, what they forced their own children to do qualifies, at least to me, as abuse, and they spewed the most horrific rhetoric many of us have ever heard. So, yes, I understand.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m a liberal Christian, and as such, I am called to love Fred Phelps. You cannot imagine the struggle that has been. Here is the leader of an organization that hurts people I adore, demeans members of our military who have died, attacks everyone who disagrees with them, and doesn’t ever apologize for the pain they cause. I wrote about that struggle, and how I came to a place where I can in fact love Fred Phelps, and a few people did not care for the piece.

I don’t love Fred Phelps because of who he was, what he believed, or what he inspired. I love him because in doing so, I give up the hate. I honor his legacy by continuing to do good things for the LGBT community, by shining lights into dark corners of the world, and showing people that like George Takei, I do not believe hate ever wins. But I’m a straight, slightly-known writer. George Takei, a married, gay celebrity will not be celebrating the passing of Phelps. Mark Sandlin, an LGBT advocate, won’t either. And this morning my friend Gwen Andrix, a leader in the Ohio LGBT community shared her thoughts on Fred Phelps’ death.

May he find peace and acceptance for all humankind

May we all come to a place where the hate Phelps and some members of his family spread is replaced with peace and acceptance. May we find ourselves embracing our brothers and sisters, and protecting them from darkness and fear. And may we never forget that while the Westboro Baptist “Church” is more outspoken-and less subtle-about their hate, there are many groups in America who believe the same things, just under a different banner.

As promised, here are links to a few groups that do amazing work for the LGBT community. I encourage everyone to follow Elizabeth’s lead, and donate a little something in Fred Phelps’ name. Let’s keep his legacy of bringing people together to fight back against hate and bigotry alive.

The Trevor Project

Justin’s Gift

The Matthew Shepard Foundation

Equality House


Erin Nanasi

Erin Nanasi is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary. She hates writing about herself in the third person. Erin enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family. And wombats. Come visit Erin on on Facebook. She also can be found on Twitter at @WriterENanasi.


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