Having written about the Westboro Baptist Church in my book, Hearts & Minds and having debated Shirley Phelps, I find myself struggling with the passing of her father, The Rev. Fred Phelps. As the founder of the infamous church ‘meets Jesus’, the rest of us are left with a quandary about how to mark his passing.
Little nice can be said about his life, his deeds or his words. He and his followers picked at Matthew Shepard’s funeral, the funerals of countless fallen soldiers and the funerals of children gunned down while at school. They proudly called women sluts and whores, hosted the website godhatesfags.com and did a number of parody music videos in which they said the most vial things imaginable.
They angered people on the left and the right side of both the political and religious spectrums with their hate and rhetoric, and they mastered the art of using freedom of speech as a weapon—walking right up to the line, but never crossing it—at least not in the view of the Supreme Court.
So what are we to do now? Picket Phelps’ funeral? Celebrate the death of a man who, day after day, found ways to hurt and insult complete strangers when they were simply trying to grieve? As tempting as that may be, I have a better idea. Rather than swim in the same cesspool as Phelps, I suggest we all do a little spiritual jujitsu with two simple steps.
Send the Phelps family a card expressing condolences. I say this without a hint of snark. However misguided this family may be, their grief is every bit as real and intense as the grief felt by the targets of their vitriol. Simply wish them well and do your best to mean it. To make your life easy, here is the address of the church:
Westboro Baptist Church
3701 SW 12th Street
Topeka, KS 66604
And then. . .
In your card, tell them that in lieu of flowers, you will be making a donation in Fred Phelps’ name to one of the following charities. The donation can be in any amount you can afford but give whatever you can without malice, hatred or revenge in your heart. Let your donation be offered from a place of compassion and loving kindness.
It would be hard to undo the pain this man has caused so many people, but we can take all of that negativity and turn it around by simply using that energy to ease suffering in this world. To hate him back is to increase his power, but to respond with compassion and love will help the people most affected by this sad and delusional man.