I have just finished reading a Facebook status from Nate Phelps, estranged son of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. It appears that Fred Phelps Sr is near the end of his life and is currently in a hospital bed. The post goes on to say that Fred Sr was excommunicated from the ‘church’ he started in August of last year. A lot of the comments were an instant reaction of ‘serves him right’. But I want to posit something else in this blog post, something that may surprise a lot of people who read my blog, because you all know how much I rally against the actions of this, for want of a better word, cult.
Fred Phelp’s Sr is a twisted individual, of that there is no doubt. His peculiar take on the message of the Bible is his own making and that has been passed onto his family and individuals who have been easily duped into believing that it’s the right path. I’ve watched the Louis Theroux documentaries, I’ve seen the way Shirley so ardently continues to espouse the ridiculousness, and I’ve watched as like Nate before them, younger members of the ‘church’ have pulled away and forged their own paths in life, members who when you saw them in the documentaries, you could see the beginnings of doubt in their minds, even if they tried not to show it. There was this overwhelming sense of them not wanting to leave behind the only life they had ever known and the family that they loved so dearly.
For each member leaving Westboro behind, it’s not just leaving a lifestyle that makes no sense to the outside world, but it’s leaving their family, the people that they love, neither rightly or wrongly. Humans create bonds that are irreplaceable and in reading Nate’s status, I saw that confusion in the news. Fred Sr has directly and indirectly caused suffering for the community both inside and outside of the church for many years. But does that mean that we should forget he’s a father and a grandfather as well? Does it mean that we should forget that the excommunicated members of that church family are being forbidden from going to say their farewells to a man they love, regardless of his past?
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want Fred Sr to meet his maker and realise just how wrong he’s been. But I’m also grateful to hear how close to release from all this hatred he is. I’m grateful for the fact that he has set a marker for us to look at and prove we can be different, I’m grateful for the light his cult has thrown on the hypocrisy within the factions of the Christian church. And I’m grateful for the wider discussion that the protests have created around the issues of human rights. To be honest this is not the reaction I expected to have on hearing the news of his death/impending death. So I’m also grateful for the personal growth I have been afforded.
For those who love him and those who once loved him, for those who have a blood connection with this man, I wish nothing but peace at this time and when he passes. Yes I include his daughter, Shirley, in that. I know this won’t be the end of the craziness that is the WBC, but it will be a turning point. Just as every member who leaves creates a smaller turning point. I can already predict the headlines when he does pass. But I won’t be rejoicing. I will be looking for the signs of change this creates within the already fracturing cult. I will be looking for the finer details of the impact this creates and waiting to see who they appoint as their new leader.
To Fred Sr I wish peace as he lets go of his grasp on this world and I wish him well as he discovers the truth that is clear to so many of us.
Dwell in Possibility.
(quote by Amanda Tapping)