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.