“God loves bigots too.”
A childhood friend and high school classmate had that suggestion for what sort of sign one should bring to picket the funeral of Fred Phelps.
Phelps, who died on March 19, was notorious as the leader of Westboro Baptist “Church” in Kansas. The church operated under the banner of “God Hates Fags” and celebrated events such as the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks as God’s judgment against the United States because of rampant homosexuality and other assorted sins.
The publicity-hounds at the church — Phelps and his relatives, mostly — would celebrate and picket the funerals of gay people and slain soldiers, revel in the destruction wrought by tornadoes and hurricanes (you can imagine his thoughts on Hurricane Katrina and the sin-riddled city of New Orleans) and offend just about anyone whose last name was not Phelps.
In recent years, the church has become increasingly anti-Jewish as well. Even before then, they would often picket synagogues, including Beth Israel in Jackson, because Jews are far too tolerant of others, especially homosexuals.
My friend’s suggestion is a poignant reminder as we embark on Passover. You see, she is one of those who is high on the Phelps family rhetorical hit list. In a landmark custody case, she fought for recognition by Florida of adoptions by same-sex couples that occurred legally in other states. She also was in a same-sex marriage and filmed a video for the “It Gets Better” Project, which aims to reassure gay youth that despite the struggles they face through adolescence, things do get better.
In other words, someone about whom Phelps completely disapproves.
In the Passover story, our celebration of freedom is muted by the knowledge that the Egyptians had to suffer in the process. We are told that God commanded the angels to stop celebrating the Israelites’ escape because His children — the Egyptians — were drowning.
In this polarized world, it is far too easy to dehumanize those who are different. It is difficult to remember the humanity on the other side of the war zone, the ideological spectrum, the social divide.
There are a lot of people who gave a high-five when there was confirmation of Phelps’ death. Certainly, few were sad to see Osama bin-Laden or Saddam Hussein go either.
But even in those cases, we shouldn’t be overjoyed. While we certainly aren’t going to miss Phelps nor honor his memory, it is still unseemly to celebrate, no matter how difficult it may be to suppress the urge.
Yes, God loves all of His people.
Too bad this misguided “minister” couldn’t see it. I’m sure he sees it now.
— Larry Brook, editor