I Will Not Celebrate Westboro Founder Fred Phelps’ Death

I am not so different from Fred Phelps.

image credit: inquisitr.com

Yes, he founded Westboro Baptist “Church” in Kansas in 1955. Yes, he was at the center of the “God hates f*gs” controversies, celebrating terroristic carnage and picketing military and celebrity funerals. Yes, he urged the disowning of his own family members because they did not subscribe to his group’s rigid ideology.

Yes, he was a man marked by hate, heartless religiosity and cruel misappropriation of Scripture and God’s character.

But my life has been marked by those things, too.

My story has weaved in and out of alignment with the kind of lifestyle Jesus called me to. But my story is not over. And neither is Fred Phelps’ story.

Fred Phelps in Bad Health

Phelps is reportedly in poor health, and some say he’s nearing death. [UPDATE: Phelps passed away late Wednesday, March 19, 2014.]

The Internet is atwitter with responses, most of which wish vile things upon Phelps and Westboro. Many propose picketing Phelps’ funeral in retaliation for the funerals he so maliciously picketed.

There is speculation even Westboro itself would protest Phelps’ funeral, who they excommunicated in 2013 for reasons still unclear.

But to celebrate the imminent death of another human, no matter what kind of atrocious person he was known to be, is wrong. It’s neither tasteful nor humane. And it speaks more to the nature of the reactionary than that of the ailing man.

Especially for Christians seeking a proper response to such a convoluted topic, any form of harsh judgmentalism against Phelps or anyone else would compromise the love Jesus so widely spoke about.

How we respond to Fred Phelps’ death determines whether we’re preaching the same hate he became so popular for.

A Minority of Compassion

Even Lauren Drain, an excommunicated former member of Westboro, urged a response of compassion, not retaliation. On her Facebook page:

“I pray that despite all the many families & people affected by the WBC, that they will not have vengeance in their heart, but rather pity.”

As this news grew popular the week of Saint Patrick’s Day, it’s curious to recall the words of the deceased missionary.

Patrick devoted his life, after escaping enslavement to pagan Druids, to returning to Ireland where he preached the Gospel to the very people who once held him captive. His vision from God was not to retaliate with force, but to invite them to follow Jesus, the One whose love transforms even the most wayward of people.

“If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples, even though some of them still look down on me.”
– Saint Patrick

God Is Not Done

Do not be quick to declare when Jesus is done with someone else’s story. That’s not our job. Ours is to be faithful to Jesus and the change He’s bringing about in our own lives, and helping other people experience His transforming grace and truth.

When we try to transform others or change their minds, whether by religious overzealousness or by calloused hate or anything else, we’re bound to fail utterly because it is not our position to do so.

We become blinded to our own hypocrisy, lost in the false front of self-righteousness that would crumble if we allowed anyone in on the secret that we actually had issues, too. We fight the same tired battles against sin that destroys parts of our lives, but we don’t let anyone see it for fear of being branded unfaithful or broken.

Jesus begs us to pull down the facade and acknowledge we don’t have it all together. Because in that space, where we humbly admit our imperfections and our need for healing, He joins us in our messes. His grace eagerly meets our failures. Jesus doesn’t reject us because of our evils, or even because of our hateful propaganda. He walks with us and calls us to something better.

I will not celebrate Fred Phelps’ death. To do so would tell God His grace isn’t big enough for all of us. And I hope you reject hatred in these vitriolic circumstances, choosing instead to embody the love Jesus has extended to all.

God does not give up on us. Let’s not give up on His work in others, either.

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What’s your response to the news of Fred Phelps’ death?

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11 responses to “I Will Not Celebrate Westboro Founder Fred Phelps’ Death

    • He was actually a civil-rights attorney. He fought Jim Crow laws in Kansas, when few other people were with him. Was he good? No. Was dying the only good thing he ever did? No.

      Do you sound a lot like the man when you say things like “the only good thing Fred ever did was die”? Yes.

    • This response to Phelps’ death is ironically Fred-esque. Taking a legalistic and moralistic stance of judgment on someone else’s human actions is so reminiscent of Phelps’ campaigns. Fred declared that “God Hates Fags”, judging that a homosexual’s actions cannot be redeemed. George, you’re implying that Fred’s actions cannot be redeemed. In essence, you’re the same as him.
      In John’s post, he urges us to “not be quick to declare when God is done with someone else’s story”. #spitwisdom John.
      I’m not going to address Fred’s actions as the post above does, because I’d be misplacing myself in the same position of judgment that’s reserved for an all-knowing, incomprehensibly loving and gracious God. I will say this though. The hyperbole used above is in poor taste and reveals some crappy stuff about our human hearts.

  1. Thank you John. It scares me the type of hate that resides in my own heart… I’m embarrassed that my own initial reaction to hearing about Fred Phelps being near death was one of near excitement… or at least something like, “you’re getting what’s coming to you buddy.”

    There are days I’m reminded Jesus’ I’m a long way away from Jesus’ calling for me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me, us, or others. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  2. Thank you john, these are great thoughts. I love reading your eloquent wisdom, humility and love. Blessings!

  3. John, I saw your article on a friend’s fb post. When I saw your name, I had to see if it was the John Weirick I knew from 4th grade…and it was. So good to see you and read of your passionate faith in our great God. Many blessings to you in your ministry. –Mrs. Rector

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