3/18/14 Hate Begets Hate
Hate is a terrible thing to base one’s religious philosophy on, yet the more religious trappings people profess and the more of religion that is displayed outwardly, the more it seems that hate is its ultimate destination. Why anyone would choose this is mysterious to me.
Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, started out his career as a young attorney who was a lion of a civil rights lawyer. At one time, Phelp’s law firm had hundreds of cases pending before the courts in Kansas and it seemed that he was single-handedly challenging every Jim Crow law remaining in the state. Phelps was so devoted to his cause that for him the end easily justified the means, resulting in his permanent disbarment. Even lawyers fighting for good and noble causes had best not submit fraudulent affidavits to the courts as evidence. At first, Phelps was disbarred from practicing in state courts in Kansas, but eventually was disbarred from Federal courts, too. It was no matter, though. Phelps just raised up his own attorneys. He has several children and grandchildren and sent most of them through law school like most folks send their kids through local soccer leagues.
Phelps eventually turned his righteous anger from something we would all agree was worthwhile to something he apparently felt was worthwhile but distasteful to the rest of us. If he was acting in good faith in the role of a prophet in what he felt was the call of God, then he was diligent about his calling. That is admirable, but that is the only thing about him that seems admirable, and I am stretching further than my reach to find something to admire. As the poet said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp…” I may have exceeded it in this case.
What was not admirable was the way in which he went about it, which we all found detestable and still do. He exercised his first amendment rights in the most atrocious and disrespectful ways imaginable. He left us very little room to tolerate him, much less like him, though I don’t think he and his tribe expected either toleration or admiration. They just did what they did, or what they were told.
Today I have learned that Fred Phelps has been excommunicated (or “excluded”) from his own church for some unnamed reason, and that he is in hospice care, now near death. Two of his sons who had earlier left Westboro Baptist have come forward and confirmed the excommunication. The speculation on the reasons run from fiscal impropriety, to property and succession disputes, to the rumor that Phelps has admitted that he is a homosexual. If the latter is true, is there a greater irony possible?
Phelp’s family has asked for a respectful privacy during this time of Phelp’s hospice and most likely will ask for it at his funeral. It may be too much for them to ask for. Surely, they don’t expect it, though I expect they’ll get far more of it than they deserve. Perhaps the people will be merciful, for Christians, more than anyone else, understand that it is never what we deserve that we ask for for ourselves, nor for others…it is grace and mercy. I wish grace and mercy on Fred Phelps even though I find him detestable. As a Christian, I have no other choice but to believe that the shed blood of Jesus can cleanse the stains from Fred Phelps. If I don’t believe that, then I must, by extension, believe that the sinless life, crucifixion, and shed blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, and His resurrection, is somehow lacking something for which my own actions are superior. That is ludicrous. That is dangerous. I have no such illusion. Jesus died for me. Jesus died for Fred Phelps. Though, I must admit, when Fred crosses over Jordan, I will remember that is is easier to mourn for some than it is for others. This is my own shortcoming, for, as the Meditator said, “Every man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
I will leave the eternal judgment of Fred Phelps to the eternal judge. His actions I witnessed on this earth were contemptible and shameful by my way of thinking. But thinking that does not give me license to pass judgment on his soul. Fortunately for you and me, that is not my job. I would not have that job if it were offered to me because I am not qualified and would judge harshly things that mercy should ameliorate, and let pass things that righteous judgment should condemn. This work is best left to my superiors.
If we wanted to band together and return the hatred Fred Phelps seemed to display towards others, perhaps we could put up his picture on the television screen every morning for a two-minute hate-fest, and we could unconditionally hate this embodiment of all that is humanly evil in unison for the full two minutes. We could shout insults and curses, throw shoes, and revile him in all sorts of officially government-sanctioned hatred, much like the faceless evil entity Big Brother encouraged hatred at the sight of the face of Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s novel 1984. The latter was evil personified, but the former one, the faceless one, was just evil. There is no question which one of the two was the most evil. It is always the faceless evil that is the purest evil…it is the one we fail to recognize. It is the one we fail to see in ourselves. It is the evil that is not us, the evil that we can only see in others, the evil that blinds us to our own evil. Blinded enough to our own iniquity, we soon become the religious zealots that personifies Westboro Baptist Church. We might as well become its members, because when it is evil we choose, it really matters little which particular brand of evil we embrace; it consumes us so that the hatred of everything not identical to us, the hatred that eventually overtakes us, is in the end all the same. Hatred embraced has no boundaries.
Justice or mercy? I’ll have mercy, but I can’t lay claim to mercy and expect justice for everyone else.
I do not like Fred Phelps. I do not like The Westboro Baptist Church. I abhor their behavior. In spite of that, I ask that they be shown the mercy that I have been shown…the mercy that I have occasionally failed to show to others who desperately needed it just as I. The Phelps clan should be prepared to endure whatever it is that they have to endure. For them to ask for privacy and respectful distance from so many of those to whom they have shown the most egregious disrespect, well, that may be over the top, but it is not too much for the Lord to deliver. I am content to let it rest in His hands.
God is watching you!
No…that was an intentional misapplication…Rest assured, God is watching ME.
What will He find?
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp