Thursday, March 27, 2014

Loving the Haters

I don't know what to add to what's already been said about the death of Fred Phelps. There have been many eloquent words written----and some not so eloquent.

I've mused that his vitriol was so over the top that surely he was a performance artist, using his life to show the logical conclusion of excluding any group of people. Of course, I don't believe it. There are too many other examples of this sort of hatred, both currently and from history, to really believe it.

But he did show us what hate looks like, how ridiculous it could be. Luckily, he never achieved any power to take it beyond his picketing nonsense (which was hurtful enough). Current conditions of LGBT people in Uganda and Russia (to name two places) shows a less ridiculous logical end of hating people.

Still, I do think he helped LGBT folk in the United States. All his effort and money thrown at us LGBT folk created more sympathy for us than anything else. I think people who were on the fence about LGBT folk decided they did not want to look like Phelps. So in a backhanded sort of way, we have a debt of gratitude to pay.

That doesn't change the fact that his name goes down in history as a petty, mean man who got way more publicity than he deserved. He joins the likes of Roy Cohn and Anita Bryant in the books on LGBT rights.

Which is, really, a pretty good definition of a wasted life.

Still, I don't rejoice in his death. Some have and do, and I can understand the impulse, but I do believe my faith must look at the man and search for the Image of God that he carried. I grieve, in some small measure, that he apparently didn't ever know the loving God I encounter in the same scriptures he misused.

Do I love him? Or his surviving family, who carries on his hate? Or the people in Uganda who set gay men on fire or the bullies in Russia who beat gay men until their faces are barely recognized as human? (I'm focusing on LGBT people in this post for obvious, personal reasons, but there are certainly other subsets of humanity in similar dire straits around the world.)

If I say I love these people, I simultaneously that it's a cheap love. It's a love I proclaim because I think I should, but it's a love without cost to me. I don't have to spend time with any of them, personally.

So, I don't know what to do with Fred Phelps. I don't know what he did that I might speak well of him. Everything I know of him denies all attempts at sympathy for him.

I will say I don't believe there's a literal hell. I don't think he's in hell. Whatever happens after we die, I feel he is going to be, at the very least, offered grace and redemption and reconciliation.

For all the venom he spewed in his hating life, I still believe he's been surprised by a joy that none of us can understand until we join him.

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