Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died this week. This is the group that has become infamous for hate-filled protests and inflammatory rhetoric against gays and soldiers. Phelps was 84 and had not mellowed in his old age. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did with Joshua Kors in 2010:
Kors: Have you thought about what will happen when you die?
Phelps: (Chuckling.) I’m not planning on dying.
Kors: Well, everybody’s going to die at some point. I’m wondering about your thoughts on going to heaven.
Phelps: The Lord himself should descend for me with the angels. I’m not looking for an undertaker — I’m looking for an uppertaker.
Kors: Describe that heaven for me.
Phelps: When the time comes, I will leave my old body. My new body will be a part of God. That’s our inheritance. God says, “They shall hunger no more. They shall thirst no more.” What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know the Bible? You are about the most ignorant person I’ve ever seen.*
It’s not my place to judge Fred Phelps, but it’s pretty easy to understand why his church, which was founded in 1955, only has about 100 members, almost all of which are members of his own family. It’s also interesting to note that in recent years the church’s protests have grown smaller and lost a lot of their energy. It seems that even Phelps’s own family members are tiring of the dog and pony show. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Westboro Baptist Church faded into oblivion. We’d all be better off if it did.
I’ve heard a lot of rejoicing about Phelps’s passing, and I understand it. I know people have been deeply hurt by his actions. But I can’t help feeling sad at the same time. This was a life that could have counted for so much more. This was a life that must have brought unspeakable sorrow to our heavenly Father.
In the end, our value to the Kingdom isn’t determined by what we hate, but by who we love. (Luke 10:27) This is a lesson I wish more of us could learn. Even people who aren’t as radical as Fred Phelps, still find a lot of their satisfaction in hating and opposing bad things rather than in simply loving Jesus and people.
The easiest thing in the world to do is shake your fist in the air and scream your displeasure. The easiest, but not the best.
May God help us to aim higher.
*The Huffington Post, 3/20/2-14, reported by Cavan Sieczkowski