FILE - In this March 19, 2006 file photo, Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. preaches at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps, who founded a Kansas church thats widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, is being cared for in a Shawnee County facility according to Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain on Sunday, March 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Updated: April 22, 2014 6:16AM
The Rev. Fred Phelps didn’t hide his hatred when I first talked with him in 1997.
“I hate gays and so should you,” said Phelps, who has preached against homosexuality since he was ordained at age 17. “It’s a disgrace that in the heart of America, the gay element is trying to take hold of the political power points.”
The infamous “God Hates Fags” reverend from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., was preparing for his church’s first protest in Northwest Indiana, to demonstrate against a gay-themed poster in Chesterton High School. I met his group of “street preachers” when they arrived to preach that gay people are condemned to hell and AIDS is God’s punishment.
“This is our calling,” Phelps’ daughter told me at a protest outside Valparaiso University.
The group’s Christian-by-name-only protesters — who I believe are truly delusional — are still protected by the First Amendment, along with most every other protester in this country. Are the Westboro protests hateful? Yes. Are they twisted? Of course. But they’re legal, and they should be, whether we like it or not.
Fred Phelps proudly told me that his “delegation of faithful Christians” preaches hate because the Bible preaches hate. Period. And he was serious as scripture.
Fast-forward 17 years and Phelps has met his hateful maker, he believed. He died Thursday at age 84.
But I’m more interested in how we feel about his death.
Since word got out late last week that Phelps was in a Kansas hospice, millions of believers and nonbelievers alike didn’t hesitate to voice their feelings about Phelps’ grave situation and terminal hatred. My social media followers also had passionate feelings about Phelps’ notorious reputation.
“His seat in hell is hot and ready,” Tina A. commented.
“It is possible his heart will be broken open when he discovers God loves fags!” Nancy W. wrote.
“If there’s any justice, the biggest protest ... will be outside his funeral,” Pam D. wrote.
“Perhaps we should picket with signs like ‘God hates false prophets’ and ‘God will punish those that twist His word,” Walt W. noted.
They are referring to planned pickets of Phelps’ funeral, to mock similar protests his church (or cultlike hate group) has held at funerals for gay men and women, as well as for military personnel. Is it wrong for us to cheer for someone’s death, even for someone we hate as much as he hated gay people? Or should we aspire to be better than a “reverend” who hated so much for so long?
Should we offer love, prayers, mercy and pity? Or find joy and vengeance in his demise? Should we publicly celebrate his obituary? Or instead foster quiet reflection and contemplation? More importantly, by enjoying his death are we more like him and others who share his bitter, bigoted viewpoint?
I don’t wish death on anyone, but I could make exceptions for hatemongers like Phelps. He’s not alone. America is seeping with such blind hatred, if not for gay people then for minorities or women or, well, you name it. We’re a fearful species, always have been. And fear breeds hate.
I hope heaven and hell exist if only for misguided, self-righteous buffoons like Phelps who cast judgments in their God’s name. On a more earthly plane, sometimes the human herd needs to culled and this is one of those times — albeit too many years late.
Then again, I think back to that protest so many years ago outside VU. There, I also met Phelps’ 8-year-old grandson, Joseph, who held a sign larger than himself. It stated, “No special laws for fags.” Cute, huh?
“I don’t like gays either,” said young Joseph, who had been protesting since age 4.
I asked him, “Really? Why?” He looked at his aunt, one of Phelps’ 13 children. She nodded her approval and smiled.
This is how hate gets infected from generation to generation. Same goes with mercy, pity and forgiveness, I guess.
I’ll try to keep that in mind now that Phelps has gone to his hell.
‘Uncle Lar,’ standup guy
The hilarious and heckler-proof stand-up comedian Larry Reeb, aka “Uncle Lar” will be my special guest on today’s Casual Fridays radio show.
Reeb is the wise-cracking, politically incorrect standup who’s appeared on HBO, Showtime and other TV channels. He’s known for his sarcastic attitude, sardonic wit and rapid-fire one-liners. Tune in at noon at WLPR-FM 89.1, streaming at http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays/.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.