26 March 2014

On A Hater's Death, From His Son

As I mentioned a few days ago, Rev. Fred Phelps senior--he of Westboro Baptist Church fame--has died.

I am happy to know that I'm not the only person who has asked that we don't express the same sort of hate toward him that he showed us during his life.   Such a plea has come from no less than his estranged son, Nathan Phelps.

Recovering from Religion has issued this statement from him:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 24 2014 – On behalf of Nathan Phelps, son of former Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, Recovering From Religion issues the following official statement:
“Fred Phelps is now the past. The present and the future are for the living. Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on, not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been. I deeply mourn the grief and pain felt by my family members denied their right to visit him in his final days. They deserved the right to finally have closure to decades of rejection, and that was stolen from them.
Even more, I mourn the ongoing injustices against the LGBT community, the unfortunate target of his 23 year campaign of hate. His life impacted many outside the walls of the WBC compound, uniting us across all spectrums of orientation and belief as we realized our strength lies in our commonalities, and not our differences. How many times have communities risen up together in a united wall against the harassment of my family? Differences have been set aside for that cause, tremendous and loving joint efforts mobilized within hours…and because of that, I ask this of everyone – let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.
The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.”  Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.”

I am very moved by the humility and compassion behind Nathan Phelps' statement.  It's especially touching given the pain I'm sure he feels over losing a loved one with whom he'll never have an opportunity for reconciliation.  
Ironically, the young Phelps may provide the only lasting legacy of his father's work.  An organization like Westboro Baptist Church that's built upon hate can only destroy itself over infighting from its members. (Living and dying by the sword, anyone?)  The fact that Nathan has chosen not to follow in his father's "God Hates Fags" campaigns or protests at the funerals of military service members killed in combat shows that, at some point, bigotry and other kinds of ignorance must, inevitably, end.