Fred Phelps is dead. And I’m glad for him.

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Posted March 24, 2014 by Marg Herder
Lots of people in the LGBT universe have something to say about the death of Fred Phelps.  And sure enough, I’ve got something to say as well.

Fred Phelps is dead.  And I’m glad for him.

The way Phelps lived his life hurt me in a very real and personal way. It’s been difficult for me to find any compassion for the man. But somewhere along the way I did.  Through Her grace. Through surrender to the call to “forgive those who trespass against us.”

However, forgiveness notwithstanding, I will always carry the wounds inflicted by his perverted presentation of Christianity. His battle cry of “God hates fags” helped keep me away from the experience of Christ/Sophia for decades.

Phelps was the logical conclusion of the legalistic Christian culture that shamed me, that stripped me of my chosen path of spiritual expression, that ruined my faith in Christianity.

Even though Christ/Sophia, or the teachings of Jesus for that matter, had very little to do with the “Christianity” of Fred Phelps, the fact that he called himself a Christian (and we heard no objection) resulted in innumerable LGBT people of my generation choosing to dismiss Christianity while at the same time learning to fear, if not hate, Christian people.

Fred Phelps did more to turn LGBT people away from the Gospel than just about anyone else I can think of.  His supposed intention may have been to turn LGBT people away from their evil “lifestyle of sin,” but in practice his actions turned LGBT people away from Christ.  A shameful legacy.

But there’s one other thing Fred Phelps did here in the world that bears remembering.  Fred Phelps showed countless Christians what they didn’t want to be.  Fred Phelps and his followers managed to make the hideousness of Christian homophobia shockingly real.  Fred Phelps did not engage in the blatantly self-deceptive talk about “loving the sinner, hating the sin.” (In one interview, he declared, “God hates the sin and He hates the sinner. He sends them to hell.”)  Fred Phelps didn’t try to make himself feel okay about his homophobia by obfuscating the reality of it; he put his homophobia on full display.  And Christian people everywhere noticed and had to ask themselves if that was what they looked like.  Fred Phelps did more to bring homophobia to Christian consciousness in the last twenty three years than LGBT people could have done in a hundred years of talking about it.  Even though it sucked, even though it hurt, Fred Phelps showed Christians exactly where the homophobic road leads.

“If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark. We don’t know where we are going, because we can’t see in the dark” (1 John 2:11, CEV). Perhaps Fred Phelps is no longer walking in the dark.

Fred Phelps is dead.  And now, I’m glad for him.

Not because I think death is a punishment that he deserves.  Death is death.  It happens.  It’s not punishment, it’s not right or wrong, it’s just another part of this dance we do.  I’m glad he’s dead because one way or another I believe he’s no longer being tortured by his own pride and fear.

I don’t know what happens after we die.  I sometimes suspect it may be more like nothing than it is like something, but I can’t know.  Nor can anyone else.  Even people who “die” and come back don’t really die.  The things they experience when they are “clinically dead” may or may not be indications of what death is like.

I know, as a Christian I’m supposed to believe in some specific construct, something involving resurrection, heaven, and hell.  I know I’m supposed to, but I just can’t.  That whole thing—at least the way it’s usually presented— sounds way too much like here for me to believe it is what goes on there.  To me, it seems utterly egocentric to think that we maintain our awareness of ourselves as separate beings in death.  I can’t help but think self-awareness is simply a function of our aching separation from Source, a longing to rejoin the One who formed us.

To me, it seems most believable that after we die the line between us and everything else blurs in way we aren’t capable of understanding. Perhaps it is best to think of it as Mystery—and just stop there.

I enjoy imagining that the line has blurred between Fred Phelps and my high school friend who died of AIDS, Michael Green.  I enjoy imagining that the line has blurred between Fred Phelps and all the other people who have been the victims of millennia of religion’s pride and violence.  But most of all, I enjoy imagining that the line between Fred Phelps and millions of beautiful and loving LGBT people has been blurred.  That his liberated soul is now one with Christ/Sophia, he moves with the Light, with Love, and finally knows us.

I enjoy imagining that.

Fred Phelps is dead.  And really, I’m glad for him.

 

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Marg,

    I’ve read this post twice so far–I expect to read it again. I am so moved by it, and I am in conversation with you as I read. The piece is eloquent, truth-telling, full of insight and perspectives that get me into new and important places. The level of forgiveness that you have been able to reach moves me to prayer, gratitude, wonder.

    The hatred you and so many others have faced and the suffering you have endured is palpable in this post. I feel so sad that you had to live so much of your life in repelling these attacks. And I know there are sadly more “Christians ” out there who are on the continuum that Phelps was on.

    So I want to affirm and reaffirm my love and support for you and for the LGBTQ community–we are all members of one another. The light and love that you write about is truly all that matters.

    I am with you about what happens after we die. I think that Mystery is not only the best that we can do, but actually is hugely wonderful. I think much of life is mystery, and I find life, hope, and joy in that.

    I really like your image of the blurring lines. It opens all kinds of possibilities, which to me is a much more appealing and profound way of being there than our being our same old selves.

    Thanks for everything and lots of love–
    Linda

  2. Thank you for writing this and I want to apologize on behalf of all Christians for the hate displayed/portrayed by Fred Phelps. Seeing the documentary on Netflix about him motivated me to anger but also made me seek out other documentaries that talk about how LGBT Christians have felt treated by Christians at large. It hurts my heart. I have been and am working on how to NOT be that kind of Christian. I strive to try to be more like Christ and reach out and love those that society pushes to the fringes. In short: you are loved!

  3. Fred Phelps’ lasting legacy is a gift for the LGBT population. Phelps was not afraid to show the ugly side of fear, hate. And by doing so, millions of people around the world have seen the ugliness of homophobia in action. Thanks to Phelps more churches became “welcoming” and more people saw the real face of hate hiding behind a cross.

  4. So many people are wishing Fred Phelps to be in hell now. I don’t think that’s right. It’s not their place to judge. I prefer to believe that even those who caused so much harm (because they honestly believed they were doing the right thing by God) will still be able to share the same space as me after death. I am no better than them because I am also living my life the way I honestly believe God wants me to do.

    So, I agree, the lines probably are blurred and not only will Phelps ‘know’ us now, but we will ‘know’ him!

  5. Marg, This is lovely. I had chills reading it. Your abounding grace for other people, especially those who have wounded you deeply, is such an example to me.

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