The 84-year old founder of Westboro Church in Topeka, KS, known for his inflammatory pickets and raging anti-homosexual stance, passed away before midnight on Wednesday, according to family members. A recent Facebook post by his estranged son, Nathan Phelps, reported that the elderly pastor had been excommunicated last year for promoting a “kinder approach between church members.” Others in the congregation dispute that claim.
One thing is for certain: Phelps was among one of the most despised men in America. His death lit up the twittersphere with comments both crude and clever:
“To paraphrase Bette Davis, you should never speak badly of the dead, only good. Fred Phelps is dead. Good.” (Ilissa Gold)
“Fred Phelps will soon be rotting 6 feet underneath this earth. That’s one less scumbag.” (Jacob Norieka)
When actor Adam Baldwin learned of Phelps’ death, he tweeted, “BREAKING: Hell welcomes new resident.”
Other tweets I will not repost here. Suffice to say they were…colorful.
Phelps made himself an easy target–in fact, too easy. How difficult is it to condemn a man who spouted hate-filled nonsense or lambast a group who possesses the sensitivity of a bunch of drunken lumberjacks with mommy issues? In my own experience, I have never broken a sweat saying something unkind about a person I despised.
Then come the words of Jesus, the ones that do make us sweat when we seriously consider them: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:43-45 NKJV)
Sometimes, like you, I just don’t know what to do with these words. They’re hard to follow. They seem out-of-touch with reality. Jesus couldn’t have possibly have meant it. Love the unlovable? Return blesses for curses? Pray for our persecutors? To be honest, I don’t want to deal with these commands. I want to sweep them under the rug. Go back to the easy way of ripping those I disagree with, blast the so-and-sos whom I deem are morally inferior to me.
Fred Phelps did that.
You don’t really want to be like him, do you? It’s just…well, it’s just too easy.