The life of Fred Waldron Phelps, notorious founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, has come to an end. He leaves behind a tainted legacy that began with civil rights activism in the 1960s, but grew into a fringe movement that derided Catholic and Protestant churches, picketed funerals across the country, and garnered media attention for vehement, despicable anti-gay protests.
Reports have suggested that Phelps was excommunicated from his church at some point. But Fred Phelps continues to be viewed as the ringleader of Westboro Baptist Church, an organization whose hate and bigotry, though far removed from any recognized denominational affiliation, seemed to confirm the deepest fears about what Christianity might represent. Phelps and the church he led were viewed as anathema by Christians and non-Christians alike – universally reviled, yet still conflated with America’s “religious right.”
Temptation to dance on the grave of the godfather of grave-dancers was certain to crop up. However, as the church, we can choose to respond differently to the death of one who caused irreparable emotional and spiritual damage: with mercy, compassion and even pity.
Our culture often takes the uncomfortable track of reveling in the death of the wicked—the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches. Proverbs 24:17-18 admonishes us to “not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased.”
It causes God grief when one of His creation glories in the fall of another. An essential truth of Christianity is that God loves all…. God loves Fred Phelps. And God mourns along with us at a life of lost opportunities, a life of conflict and division, a life of wasted virtues.
Some very ugly things happen when we choose to celebrate the end of a life such as Phelps’….we reduce that person to a symbol instead of viewing them as someone created in God’s image. Furthermore, in choosing to respond to Phelps’ death with hate, we’re participating in the exact same project that made him infamous.
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” Christ asked, underscoring the critical importance of loving those most difficult. In a word, when Christ told us to love our enemies and pray for the persecutors, He wasn’t making a friendly suggestion. He was outlining one of the most fundamental processes of the Christian life.
The news of Phelps’ death broke, even as he was on his deathbed, social media was becoming a toxic cesspool of nasty reactions. A group called “1,000,000 Strong for Picketing Fred Phelps’ Funeral When That [Expletive] Dies” gained momentum, and major news outlets are even asking whether his funeral should be picketed. A “Fred Phelps Death Watch” Facebook group urges people to “Like this page. 1 like = 1 death prayer for Fred Phelps!” The Twittersphere is quick to point out that Fred Phelps died on “International Happiness Day.”
If we truly love Christ and follow His teaching, it’s incumbent upon us to position ourselves against the cacophony. We’re afforded an amazing paradox in the faith, the ability to reject abhorrent behavior on the one hand and to simultaneously forgive.
Excerpt from; Why Fred Phelps’ Death Isn’t a Cause for Celebration