The Rev. Fred Phelps, provocateur-in-chief of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., recently died at 84. The death of a pastor from a tiny Kansas church normally wouldnt be national news, but Phelps and his flock gained infamy for turning hatred into performance art by staging pickets at the funerals of gay people and of American troops killed in combat.
Phelps theology was so perverted and vitriolic that he convinced himself and his members that such deaths were a direct result of God punishing a recalcitrant nation that wont do away with its homosexuals.
Westboros cache of protest signs included God Hates Fags, Thank God for IEDs and God Hates America.
Untold millions of people devote their lives to serving God and others, yet theyll never receive a tenth of the media attention Phelps did when he led a picket. So maybe that says something about us.
In his prime, Phelps was consistently unapologetic about his disgust for anyone who holds beliefs that dare to differ from his own. Unlike some clerics, Phelps made no effort to cloak his intolerance in Bible-speak euphemisms, and he all but spit on the notion of unconditional love and grace.
For Phelps, the only God worth believing in was a fire-breathing, vengeful deity.
Like most haters, Phelps was a hypocrite, calling for death for gays according to the Bibles book of Leviticus but not for adulterers, who, according to the same Scripture, were equally deserving of death.
As is your smart-alecky tween.
And anyone in blended fabric.
And dont even think about bringing your out-of-wedlock grandchild into the sanctuary.
In the fall of 2006, Phelps threatened to descend upon Canton, Ohio, to picket the funeral of Marine Cpl. Heath Warner, who never got the chance to be an 84-year-old grandfather. What could have been a bad situation instead brought out the best in others.
A contingent of burly motorcycle-riding veterans took it upon themselves to serve as security if Westboro members dared to show.
There no doubt are people who are unapologetically happy to hear about Phelps demise. But better not to think of him at all than to be pulled into his orbit.
His life was a master class in how Christianity shouldnt be practiced. Its tragic, actually, that a man would willingly spend his entire life engulfed in a fire of his own making.
Hell have to answer for how he spent that life, which included indoctrinating children and inciting them to hate, because the same Bible that Phelps used like a blunt instrument states that its better to place a millstone around your neck and jump into the sea than to abuse a child.
Now comes word that Phelps had been excommunicated from Westboro last year for urging his members to treat others with more kindness.
If karma got together with irony, they couldnt have done any better.
Phelps was a lawyer and a minister, both of whom get paid to talk. Hell have to make his case for why he chose not to err on the side of love, why he opted for darkness and destruction over encouragement and hope.
Yet even in all of this, who can say with certainty that if a man dies with a penitent heart, Gods mercy has limits? A lot will be written and said about Fred Phelps, but God will have the last word.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP