By Jill Brownfield, Alumna ’11
On the first day of spring and the International Day of Happiness, Fred Phelps, the notorious leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, died at 84.
My initial response was joy, because finally all the people he hurt can live more peacefully.
If you’re not familiar with his public image, a quick Google search will bring you to the slogans he used on signs to picket funerals including “God hates fags,” “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Hate is a Bible value.”
If those don’t fire you up, consider this a partial list of funerals he and his “church” picketed: Matthew Shepard, Carrie French, Gordon B. Hinckley, Christina Green, Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Mr. Rogers and the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
His church group, which has been labeled the largest hate group in America by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also pickets concerts, cultural events and LGBTQ parades/demonstrations.
My family went to church when I was a kid, so I’ve been exposed to Christianity most of my life. As an adult I have faced some difficulties with the Christian faith community on a large scale not only because of the sour taste left by people like Fred Phelps, but also because of a personal negative experience my family had at church. Beyond that, I have a difficult time understanding some of the fundamental lessons of Christianity, but you all don’t have time to read about that!
What I DO remember about church was my perception of Jesus – this loving dude who rocked some sweet ass sandals and hung out with losers. I can’t quote you very much scripture, and I can’t prove that God exists or tell you my theological understanding of sin, but I think we can all at least agree to somewhat like someone who prefers wine to water, #amIright?
After the Boston Marathon bombing, I read Patton Oswalt’s response and it changed my perspective on “bad” folks forever. In short, he said that if humans were inherently evil, we wouldn’t be here. We’d be toast already. And, he said, if you see evil, stare at it and remember there will always be more good.
Hatred is a cycle, but the cycle of Fred Phelps’s hatred needs to stop here. Hating people gives darkness a perceived victory. It gives hate the power to reproduce. Don’t let hate win.