According to CNN Fred Phelps died of natural causes at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday,March 19th, 2014. Since knowledge of Phelp’s impending death made the news there has been quite the debate as to whether or not it is appropriate to celebrate the passing of such an evil and hate filled man. After all, this was the man who made his fame by celebrating the murder of Matthew Shepard and then continued to make his name infamous by protesting at high profile funerals (including that of “Mr.” Fred Rogers), especially those for soldiers. Since I was never the target of a Phelps led Westboro Baptist Protest, I suppose that I really have no right to chime in.
But, as I am soap-boxing and writing a post on this I obviously have an opinion so I will let two others speak for me. I am one of many who considers LGBT activist and Star Trek actor George Takei to be a hero. On his Facebook page, speaking of the ill Phelps Takei said:
I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor 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.
And after Phelps death was confirmed Takei wrote:
Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.
As one who was a target of Phelps vile hate Takei had a right to speak out and to what he had to say I say “amen.” Humanity has no chance to improve until we can answer hate with forgiveness and love. When faced with those who want to insult and tear down it is up to us to take the high ground and be the best of humanity. This was the answer of many of the friends of Matthew Shepard. At his funeral, when Phelps and the Westboro protestors showed up,instead of fighting back, Shepard’s friends dressed in angel costumes with big wings and used their bodies to block out Phelps hate. This action has been repeated many times since then.
I will appeal to one more quote to illustrate my feelings on this matter. Twice yearly the leaders of the LDS Church assemble and speak to the whole Church in a televised meeting that we call “General Conference”. The October 1992 LDS General Conference was the last one for a leader that many Latter-day Saints considered a favorite, Elder Marion D Hanks of the 70. In that conference he was made an “Emeritus” general authority and he gave a farewell address that he titled “A Loving, Communicating God.” It was a masterful discourse on the love of God, but one moment in particular has stuck with me for these 20 plus years. While speaking of the love that God has for us and the love that we should have for each other, Elder Hanks told a story that is very applicable to how I feel that I need to react to the death of Fred Phelps. This story is the source of the title of this blog post. Speaking about the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and Elder Hanks told the following story:
Jewish tradition helps us further appreciate the nature of our Heavenly Father in the tender practice of the Half Hallels offered at Passover in celebration of the historic exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt and their passing through the Red Sea. When they reached the sea, the pursuing Egyptian armies overtook them. Through Moses, God divided the waters, “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground.” (Ex. 14:22.) The Egyptians went in after them. Then Moses stretched his hand again over the sea, and the waters returned. The Israelites were safe, and the Egyptian armies were drowning. Triumphantly the people began to sing hymns of praise to the Lord. But the Almighty stopped them and said, “How can you sing hymns of praise and jubilation when so many of my children are drowning in the sea?”
In remembrance of that event, Jewish people during the latter period of Passover include abridged or shortened psalms of praise, Half Hallels, as part of the celebration.
THAT to me is the ultimate answer for Phelps and all people and cases like his. Bitter, hate-filled, disgusting, awful, vile, nasty bigot that he was, Phelps was still a son of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Although he buried it down deep he still had that spark of divinity in him somewhere. And since he was a son of my Heavenly parents I have no right to “sing hymns of praise and jubilation” over his, or anyone’s death. I will be honest, I will not miss him, I am glad that he is gone, I think that his death makes the world a better and more enlightened sphere, BUT I will not celebrate his death either.
Here is the video of Elder Hanks telling the above story: