Reports surfaced this weekend that Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps Sr. is “on the edge of death.”

Phelps led the anti-gay-obsessed WBC for nearly 60 years until he was allegedly excommunicated in August (reasons still unclear). The 40-member church has been labeled a hate group and uniformly denounced for picketing funerals. It’s official website is godhatesfags.com. ‘Nuff said.

Free speech advocates have long supported Phelps and WBC in the public sphere and in the courtroom, arguing that unpopular, outrageous, controversial and offensive speech deserves equal protection under the First Amendment. I agree. But what’s the best way to counter hateful messages and hurtful assemblies?

I’m of the mindset that encouraging better speech and fostering space for debate is far better than censorship. I’m also a sucker for satire and irreverence.

Two of my favorite responses to WBC have come from the hacker collective Anonymous and pop star Ke$ha. In addition to crashing (AKA censoring) WBC’s website several times, Anonymous made a hoax WBC Facebook page with satirical posts and a Star Trek meme bearing the phrase “Jesus loves everybody.” At a protest outside Ke$ha’s concert in Nebraska last summer, the singer’s backup dancers greeted WBC’s performance of “God Hates Who U R,” their obvious parody of Ke$ha’s gay-friendly “We R Who We R,” with a performance of their own. Well played.

Onto the controversial debate starting to play out on social media, which I’d like to see taken up in the comments section below.

When Phelps dies, should LGBT rights advocates picket his funeral with “God Hates Fred” signs? Or should they take the high road and turn the other cheek?

Sound off…

39 Comments

  1. Of course not. The man spent his life thriving in the misery he dispensed. Does anyone actually believe that picketing his funeral would do anything other than perpetuate the hatred he was so indulgent in? Anyone willing to waste their time and effort on such a petty and predictable act is, in my opinion, as petty and predictable as Phelps.

    If that is something you want to do, congratulations, he has power over you even in death.

  2. Why frame this as a “Should LGBTs protest” question? You don’t think military families who experienced funeral protests won’t be celebrating his death?

    Personally, I believe that we should offer the Phelps family the grace that they never offered to others and ignore his passing. It won’t happen, but that’s what I hope for.

  3. Turning the other cheek is overrated and almost never done in the real world. However, ridicule is always a better policy.

    If anyone deserves merciless humorous skewering, it would be Phelps. Why meet hatred with hatred when you can meet hatred with laughter. This way one can take the low road and still not perpetuate hate.

    • Overrated in what sense? Perhaps it never being done in the “real world” is one reason the real world persists to be a horrid place that harbors individuals who justify their own vile ideologies for their own self serving world view at the expense of others.

      You wouldn’t be laughing unless it was derived from hatred. Do you think for one moment that the Phelps didn’t see this proposed ironic picketing coming? Do you think that ever stopped them from continuing their pickets? They don’t care how you react to them, as long as you react. Go ahead, appease their appetite. You’ll only be satisfying them.

      • Meaning nobody ever turns the other cheek. Especially Christians. They talk a good game about it as something an opponent should do, but almost never in practice when it comes to their own behavior. Somehow the high road is always for other people. There is always some cop-out excuse why ideas like “love thy neighbor”, “worrying about the plank in one’s own eye” or “turning the other cheek” can be avoided in the name of God.

        Why should this be any different?

        As for responding with humor, if Mel Brooks, a Jewish veteran of WWII can turn Hitler into a jokes, anyone can be ridiculed. Better to meet hatred with laughter. People can handle animosity much better than being mocked. Forget protests, throw a party. Hold a roast. Live well. Get the last laugh.

        • The fact that other people don’t live up to their own moral standards has nothing to do with the idea’s value. If your goal is prove Christians don’t hold a monopoly on morality, hold that ideal to a higher standard than them. Why should this be any different? To help your cause for one. Be the “other people” you’re talking about.

          Of course anyone can be ridiculed, but I’m specifically talking about the proposed picketing of his funeral, as is the article. Sure, go ahead and make a joke about the guy, I’m not saying you should mourn for him, but to act out they way he acted in life is the exact same thing.

          (For the record, 15 comments was all it took for a Hitler reference.)

          • An idea that nobody follows is of little value. An idea that you want to apply to others, but not yourself is of no value. “The high road” never works as a response. It is always minimized and ignored.

            Christians (especially conservative ones) make a big deal about consequences of one’s actions, provided they are not yours. One should expect that a person who protests funerals will not be buried in peace. Sowing the wind and whatnot.

            “(For the record, 15 comments was all it took for a Hitler reference.)”

            Are you illiterate or just have an axe to grind? It was a reference to “The Producers” and how humor and good spirits can be used to undermine hatred. The fact that Mel Brooks can turn history’s most reviled person into a joke in film, musical theater and musical film is perhaps the greatest accomplishment a comedian could make to society. The ultimate “turning the other cheek”.

            My point was rather than protest the guy’s funeral, hold a party instead. [Not at the graveyard, its disrespectful for the other people buried there.]

            Protesting just makes them look sympathetic. Meet hate with humor and good spirits. Have a picnic instead. Turn it into an occasion to be happy. What better way to say the world was better off without him than to have a good time in his absence.

  4. Rev. Fred Phelps should be buried in silence. Let those who mourn him have the dignity to mourn. The rest of us can live life. Larry suggested “turning the other cheek is overrated.” The same can be said for “lex talionis.”

    • Why should they have the dignity he denied military families?

      Why is the right of his family to mourn more important than the loved ones of those who died serving our nation?

      If they want peace, an apology should be in order.

      • It won’t allow me to continue that thread so I’ll respond here.

        Then be part of that idea if you think it’s a good one. Just because nobody else is doing it doesn’t mean if done it wouldn’t have value.

        Haha my Hitler comment was not derogatory in the slightest, just an unwritten rule in arguments that eventually all of them lead to Hitler being mentioned at some point. Sorry about the confusion!

        • Not at all.

          Bitter souls are the ones who claim that God deems people unfit to love, to care for children, to serve their nation, or to be full members of their society. Bitter souls are the ones who maliciously inflict emotional distress on families who lost loved ones serving our nation.

          I am not looking for pickets or protests. Throw a party instead.

          If you want it to mourning the passing of Phelps, so be it. If you want to celebrate the passing of Phelps, so be it. Meet his hate-filled life with happiness and reaffirming the close connections and loved ones in your life.

  5. David Lloyd-Jones

    There’s quite a bit missing from this story.

    First of all, why was he “ex-communicated”? I find this notion pretty odd to start with, since I have always thought that the essence of communion was the wine, and these folks are Baptists — a religious sect often defined as “people who don’t recognise each other when they accidentally meet at the liquor store.”

    One possibility was, that he felt olde age coming on, he broke it to the good Vestrymen that this whole “God hates fags” thing was a piece of satirical theater, and he was having everybody on to make rather brutal fun of Christianist outrages. If he was indeed one of those overly early supporters of the NAACP, then it would seem to me quite possible that he was also enraged by much Baptist practice, and thought that doing street theater which would bring it into widespread contempt was the best move.

    If that was it, then I can imagine any members of this “church” who got taken in being a wee bit peeved at themselves for being blind to the obvious. As usually happens in such cases, taking it out on somebody else rather than reflecting upon themselves, would be the average normal.

    This brings up the second question that puzzles me: how does a group that has supposedly turned against this possibly very good man then have any right, authority, or ability to keep his relatives from seeing him as he dies?

    Assuming he is a good man (and a very competent satirist), his fine children seem to be cut from the same cloth. They, not the loons of this fraudulent “church,” should be the ones governing who stands by his side.

    -dlj.

    • David Lloyd-Jones

      Sorry, slip-up: premature-NAACP supporter. To parallel “premature anti-fascist” of perhaps the Molotov-Ribbentrop period, a genuine believer, in this case in racial justice.

      -dlj.

    • I’ve always reserved the possibility that he is a satirist, or someone wishing to test the ideals of freedom of speech and such. Yet I can’t let myself think it, even if I want it to be true. I have to let myself take his actions on face value unless some type of proof comes forward that he acted for reasons otherwise. Even then, his antics would be questionable, regardless of his intentions, but it still remains possible.

      • David Lloyd-Jones

        Patrick,

        Neils Bohr used to say of the lucky horseshoe over his doorway, “They say it works whether you believe in it or not.”

        Don’t you think that this satirical street theater has done a great deal of good, whether the church members themselves believe in it or not?

        Cheers,

        -dlj.

    • The Topeka Capital-Journal is reporting that he was excommunicated following an inter-Westboro power shift (i.e., church politics). Shirley was pushed from power and Fred urged kinder treatment of fellow church members.

  6. His passing should not be recognized by media or any other groups or associations, not out of a sense of turning the other cheek but by denying him I. death what he sought in life, publicity for his message. The ones who will probably fail at this will be the media because they fail to see that they created the monster by giving him airtime to begin with.

  7. What did any of Phelp’s activities ever accomplish? Nothing. So what would picketing his funeral accomplish? Nothing. Revenge isn’t an accomplishment. And if you’re really honest with yourself, you know that revenge doesn’t have any personal emotional benefits. I think the one type of protesting that made a difference was the counter protesting that happened during many of their pickets, which all began with Matthew Shepard’s funeral in Laramie.

    It was a pretty twisted idea to picket military funerals as a protest against the acceptance of homosexuality. Perhaps it was merely meant to widen their name recognition as publicity seekers. After all, there are a lot more military funerals these days than there are funerals of famous gays. I wonder if their pickets actually had a small positive effect on the growing acceptance of LGBT folks. In an odd way it may have created a sort of alliance between gay people and military families. At any rate, revenge isn’t my thing. I’d rather save my angry responses for things that I might actually be able to change.

    Will Phelps go to hell? I’m a gay agnostic Unitarian Universalist. There’s no hell except for the hell we create for ourselves in our lifetimes. If there is a God; if there is an after-life; if there is a Heaven, then every last one of us is going there–including Pastor Phelps. I wish peace on his soul.

    • The best revenge is living well.

      Take his passing as an excuse for having a good time with friends and family. What better way to stick it to a guy who wanted to treat you like less than a person, than to be with people who treat you with love and respect.

    • CarrotCakeMan

      “What did any of Phelp’s activities ever accomplish? Nothing.”

      I disagree, Phelps destroyed the image anti-gays cultivated for 40 years, claiming they were gentle people and only wanted to “help” LGBT Americans by denying us equal rights.

      • Edward Borges-Silva

        It is intellectually dishonest to lump a vast group of individuals who hold certain precepts in common into one monolithic mass, life is more subtle than that, generally speaking.

  8. In my fifty plus years of life I have come to realize that most of the homophobia in our world comes from people who either have deep seated sexual issues they have never dealt with, or they are self-loathing closeted homosexuals themselves. This man should be pitied for his lack of insight into his own issues. Anyone who would waist a minute of their time protesting at his funeral, have too much time on their hands or are filled with as much hatred as Mr Phelps was consumed with. He is a very sad man who will be judged by his actions.

  9. Keep in mind, the Westboro members (Margi particularly) have already come out in past months saying they don’t “worship the dead,” hence there would never be a public funeral for any Westboro Baptist Church member. We shall see if that’s how it actually plays out.

  10. Brian Pellot

    Brian Pellot

    Post author

    Thanks for your comments, Jon. I tweeted a link to a story addressing both points (whether there will be a funeral and details about the excommunication) this morning. Agreed, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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