Today is a day I have been wondering about for many years now. What will happen when Fred Phelps dies? Will he be missed?
As nearly everyone in the United States knows, Fred Phelps was the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The church was made up basically of Phelps family members who followed blindly the teachings of the patriarch. This church and the stunts that they pulled at first brought a bad name to Christianity and Churches everywhere. They would go out into the land and picket events that they did not believe to be holy. The protests that they did were filled with the worst kind of hate.
Soon as awareness of the group became wider known and people began to hear interviews with the group and learn what the rational was behind their protests it began to be almost a joke. The vast majority of people considered the Westboro group to be a fringe group bordering on psychotic as they went out to claim their cause.
It started with their belief in the evil of homosexuality. For many years that was the only focus the church had and it was a truly hate filled focus. It seemed like everytime they tried to explain what they believed, the whole world was wrong and going to hell except for the chosen few in Topeka. Soon the protests began to spread to a wider audience. It went from just hating homosexuality but hating anyone who condoned the rights of humans to live as they wish in this country. "Fag Enablers" is what they called them and everyone outside the church family was one and was heading to hell. They went to protest anything they could think of. Concerts where the performers were certainly headed for hell based on the songs they were singing. Film makers for making films that would warp the minds of the world. They protested at the Sundance festival in Colorado.
They taught their kids to believe in this hate that spewed from their beliefs. Little kids not much more than five or six would tell you that "God hates fags" along with many of the other sayings that the group put out there. They soon became so hateful to the world that God hated the United States and the whole country was going to hell, well except for those few church members in Topeka.
They sunk to what I consider the lowest point possible when they began to protest at funerals of fallen soldiers. The hate was thrown at those who serve our country and made the ultimate sacrifice for this country by claiming they were in hell for being in the armed forces.
I can not properly write or describe the level of hate the Phelps family harbored within themselves. It is impossible to do it justice. The hate was caustic. It was unlike any group I have ever seen. This small group of church members made the Klan look like, yes a hate group, but a hate group that could somehow reason their hate in an intelligent manner. There was not an ounce of logic behind the hate that Fred Phelps taught his children, grandchildren and everyone in the family. I have personally never seen such hate in my life and hope not to see it again. There is no place in the world for this kind of passionate evil that used the name of God to further their agenda of hate.
So back to my question. Will Fred Phelps be missed? It is a tough question and one that I can see two answers to. For example, if not for Fred Phelps chances are we would not have heard about the tragedy of Mathew Shepard or have "The Laramie Project" to bear its message of tolerance. If not for Fred Phelps the LGBT community might still be fighting for the very basics of rights instead of looking at the progress that has been made over the last decade or so. If not for Fred Phelps we as a people may not fully comprehend how so much hate can be so destructive and bring those who the hate is directed at closer together. Fred Phelps spent his time spewing the hatred that fueled the movements that he hated most. In this light, yes Phelps might be missed a little.
On the other hand, people all across the nation will sigh in relief knowing that we won't have to deal with his brand of hatred any more. Even if the family continues, there is no way it can carry on the intensity of the hate that Fred Phelps drove them to.
Over the last few years, some of the younger members of the family have left the flock of Westboro and were shunned by those that remained faithful to the teachings of Phelps. My sincere hope is that with the death of Fred Phelps, Westboro will begin to fade away into unimportance and a bad part of history for generations to come, much the way the Klan of the 30's through 50's are to my generation. I also hope that more of the young people trapped in Topeka will see logic in turning their back on the hatred and continue to leave making Westboro a non factor for the near and far future.
While Fred Phelps did advance the causes he fought so hard against with his hatred, I can not believe that he will truly be missed. He is gone. The engine is out of gas. He will be remembered, but he will not be missed.
The final question then is one that Phelps would be stating on a day like today. He would be in front of cameras saying "Today ... Fred Phelps is in hell..." At least that was his standard mode whenever anyone died. Mathew Shepard is in Hell, John Lennon is in hell, George Carlin is in hell ... and he proclaimed that when Billy Graham dies, he will be in hell as well.
It is not for me to judge where Fred Phelps landed, whether it be in heaven or in hell. That is not my job. I know where I would like to think he is, but I can not and will not say or judge. As I said, that isn't my job.
There is one thing I am pretty sure of though. Fred Phelps will not be missed. It is good for the country, the people and Christianity in general that he has left this earth. I find it extremely difficult to mourn the passing of Fred Phelps.