Refuse to let Fred Phelps win: Follow the Golden Rule in wake of Westboro leader’s death

By Sara Blank, Opinion and Editorial Editor ||

Fred Waldron Phelps, infamous head of the Westboro Baptist Church known for his anti-gay protests at public events, died last Thursday morning at age 84. Now, we can all take a moment to internally find joy in the fact that someone who paraded hatred and disrespect is no longer among us. Of course, unfortunately, the Westboro Baptist Church’s harmful mistreatment of other humans will continue to rage on — but, for now, we can be grateful that the main leader of this pack will no longer be with us.

However, we must recognize what an extremely significant and quite crucible moment in which this places our nation. Recently on my Facebook feed and around the Internet, I see people celebrating his death and suggesting that we picket his funeral the way that he encouraged the picketing of military funerals and other public events. People may believe this is the way to obtain justice, to show his family how much pain and suffering they have caused for others. To me, this feels quite contradictory. Why would we want to spread the hatred and continue the hurtful, harmful ways for which we fault this man?

Obviously the tactics and messages this “pastor” preached are disgusting and hurt us in the most core, fundamental human ways. So why would I suggest that we treat him and his family with respect during this time? Because if we trumpet his same hate-filled and awful lessons, we are, in essence, allowing him to win. Even if this hatred is directed at him and his family, we are acting as proponents of his messages by furthering a culture that emphasizes vengeance over the importance of forgiveness and believe that our own actions should not be based upon.

Rather than determining the ways we can punish him and his family in the moment, we can prove that these cruel messages have not won. For those of you who believe in a higher power, I would like you to believe that when Fred Phelps faces the God, in whose name he mistreated others he finds forgiveness and peace — that is the only way to reverse the notions that have arisen as a result of the “religious”-based addresses he delivered.

This is an extremely important moment for us because we can surprise ourselves. Instead of demonstrating ourselves as willing to stoop to the level of disrespect and contempt this family has shown to other families in their time of need, we can defeat the hatred his teachings beget.

While I do not have sympathy for this man’s death, I do pity him. Carrying around so much hatred must be an incredibly heavy load to bear, and I hope that he is able to abandon it when he finds his afterlife. Aside from this hope, we cannot allow the burden he bore to fall onto our shoulders and for us to express it by being disrespectful.

We should not celebrate his death, we should not picket his funeral; instead, we should use this as an opportunity to show a little extra love to our friends and acquaintances who are different than us. Celebrate the fact that we are all accepting and tolerant instead of trying to gain revenge. That is the only way the breeding of hate will cease.

No matter how evil a person is, the Golden Rule still applies. I hope we can all appreciate this and use this as a small step in overcoming animosity in the world.

Sara Blank is a senior English major and the Opinion & Editorial editor for The College Reporter. Email her at sblank@fandm.edu.

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