Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sorting Out Phelps

It’s been a few days since Fred Phelps died, and I still can’t sort out my feelings. I don’t know whether to throw a party and dance on his grave, thanking God for finally ridding us of that pernicious hate-monger or whether to cry with compassion for his family and sorrow that in this life he never saw the face of the God who is Love.

Students of Siena College counter a Westboro Baptist
Church demonstration in Albany, N.Y. on Mar.  6 2009
PHOTO CREDIT:  Sebastien Barre
Used under Creative Commons License
I can only imagine that his life was fuelled not by the living waters of grace, hope and forgiveness but by anger, resentment and fear and so he made a god in his own image - a god who hates fags. He represented the hatefully distorted face of Christianity to such an extreme that he made the average right-wing bigot look moderate. I am glad that he is gone and I hope that with his passing, his family church the Westboro Baptist Church will lose steam and go quietly into the night. But that which he represented is still among us. Hatred and prejudice have many faces. They are alive and well in the hearts of liberals as well as conservatives. They are alive and well wherever people feel misrepresented, overlooked and impotent as well as in places where people feel more powerful and better than the average Joe.

Forgiveness and gentleness are the marks of God’s people, which doesn’t mean that we need to be doormats, but that even as we resist the evil that enslaves us and our society, we do so with a peaceful, creative non-violent resistance that emulates the example of Christ. 

I hope that when Fred Phelps arrived at the pearly gates, St Peter met him dressed in drag and all the angels wore their best gender-bending outfits and waved rainbow flags. And I hope that even as he discovered that he was wrong and that God loves fags and queers, he also found that God loves very mis-guided Westboro Baptists too. And I hope that he found true repentance and finds a way, even from beyond the grave, to right some of the wrongs he perpetrated and perpetuated.

Back here on the earthly plane, it will not do our souls any good to harbor anger and resentment, so here is a blessing for Fred Phelps, taken from "For the Dying" by John O’Donahue.

May your spirit feel
the surge of true delight
when the veil of the visible
is raised, and you glimpse again
the living faces
of departed family and friends.

May there be some beautiful surprise 
waiting for you inside death,
something you never knew or felt,
which with one simple touch
absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
as you quicken within the embrace
for which your soul was eternally made.

May your heart be speechless
at the sight of the truth
of all your belief had hoped,
your heart breathless
in the light and lightness
where each and every thing
is at last its true self,
within that serene  belonging
that dwells beside us
on other side
of what we see.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity, author of  A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church, and Priest-in-Charge at St. Benedict's: Los Osos in the Diocese of El Camino Real.

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