Why I am not celebrating Phelps’ death
Death of founder and former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church caused widespread controversial celebration
One would expect to hear the statement “the monster has finally died” after the passing of historically evil figures such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Osama bin Laden. What one would not expect this statement to be referencing, however, is the passing of an American pastor.
But in a tragic and ironic turn of events, these words were most recently used to describe the death of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.
Phelps, infamous for his “God hates” statements and his spiteful public protests, died Wednesday, March 19, much to the elation of a majority of the American population.
While most were cheering as a result of his death, I could not help but feel saddened by the reactions circulating the Internet. Though I can hardly blame people for not being overwhelmed with grief, I am equally as disappointed by the hatred surrounding Phelps’ death.
Though Phelps’ life and actions may indeed have born poor witnesses to what Christians proclaim to believe, my conscience immediately reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 13:34 when he states, “A new command I give you: Love one another.”
Despite how spectacularly unlovable Phelps may have been, we as Christians do not get an exemption from this commandment. If we only love the lovable, what is the point? We are saying and proving very little if we are not actively seeking to show love to those who, from our point of view, may least deserve it.
Even beyond the argument of faith, the same argument can be made on the basis of humanity. There is something innately troubling to me in the idea that people are so willing to become what they profess to abhor — that in protest to extremist hatred, we too adopt extreme hate.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously proclaimed, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Phelps was given a platform to proclaim love and truth, and he unfortunately wasted his life by twisting and corrupting the mission of the church and of followers of Christ.
Though most of us are not sorry that he died, rejoicing in the death of someone who may have been lost is never permissible.
Even his life — though despicable and utterly contradictory to everything that I believe — was still a life, and thus valuable and worth mourning. Rather than being consumed by hatred for Phelps, we should choose instead to learn from his mistakes and to live lives of love that will touch as many people with grace and hope as his did with animosity and hostility.