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Monday, February 6, 2023

Opinion

Crossfire: Phelps’ death calls for reflection on local campus bigots


Editor’s Note: It is not an opinion but a fact that Fred Phelps was a bigot. There are, however, two distinct camps on how we handle the death of the head of the Westboro Baptist Church: Should Phelps’ death be celebrated or allowed to pass into obscurity?

Rising above revenge

When infamously horrible individuals were wiped, removed and shot off the face of the earth, unfortunately, no one was seen parading in the streets.

While there may have been a multitude of individuals who jumped for joy and screamed in exuberance upon the death of these corrupt people, they probably kept that kind of celebration to the confines of their homes.

For example, when Hamburg radio in Germany reported that Hitler had been killed, there was no uproar of liberated people brushing the shackles of their oppression off their shoulders.

Though this reported “killing” actually turned out to be a suicide — BBC reports that the Hamburg radio announced that Hitler died in Berlin while fighting the Red Army — there was no dancing atop freshly lain dirt to be planned.

Instead, there was cautious optimism.

This is the same attitude we should take in light of the recent passing of Westboro Baptist Church’s pastor, Fred Phelps.

In case someone doesn’t know the monstrosity that was Phelps, he was mostly known for his impact on people of different organizations, ethnic groups and sexual orientations — and by impact, I mean majorly offensive and bigoted words.

In fact, the URL for Westboro Baptist Church’s website is godhatesfags.com. Its explanation of this creed is a “profound theological statement, which the world needs to hear more than it needs oxygen, water and bread.”

I’m pretty sure the world needs oxygen much more than hearing the words of a decrepit, hateful, disrespectful and narrow-minded man.

From this website, viewers can see exactly how many “people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page” as well as the number of pickets that WBC has conducted: 52,350.

Understandably, many people have had fantasies about punching Phelps dead in the face for his ignorance. However, now that he has passed, people are left wondering how to react.

Phelps and other followers of his church could often be found insulting and condemning humans who did not live life exactly the way he believed it should be led. He also notoriously picketed the graves of American soldiers and Jewish institutions and also led anti-gay protests.

Made infamous for these skewed viewpoints, Phelps is proof that though hate can fuel one to an old age, it will eventually eat a person from the inside.

As Phelps’ estranged son, Nathan Phelps, said in a post on Facebook, Phelps was “destroyed by the monster he made.”

USA Today reported on the multiple media sources that are encouraging angry Americans to protest Phelps’ funeral in a classic “what goes around, comes around” gesture. With Facebook pages such as “Fred Phelps Death Watch” and “Protest Fred Phelps’ Funeral,” members of the online world took to these forums to express their rage, contempt or compassion.

As for the “church” that was the product of Phelps’ hatred, according to CNN, it does not plan to hold a funeral for Phelps.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’ daughter, told CNN of this decision.

“We do not worship the dead,” Phelps-Roper said.

It’s understandable that they would be wary of a funeral. In light of all the funerals they themselves had protested, it’s not surprising that there are members of the LGBT community, as well as outside advocates, who would have to resist the urge to picket his funeral as due punishment.

However, a manhunt for justice is not what the world needs, because the fact that this man is dead is celebration enough. The old saying of “an eye for an eye” is child’s play, and we are not children.

This same idea should be used when encountering extremist groups that come to UH to preach their disdainful views, such as Bulldog Ministries and Open Air Holiness Ministries.

It’s understandable that students may occasionally wish to reach into the mouths of these radicals and scrub out their brains and hearts with steel wool and a bar of soap, but that is not realistic.

While I do not believe that these groups should be allowed to speak in the University’s free speech areas because they are not students, the freedom of speech is protected by our First Amendment — even prejudiced speech.

Unfortunately, that means that we will continue to be faced with these insolent and heinously ignorant people. The best thing to do — after blatantly pointing out their idiocies — is to smile.

I am not advocating blissful ignorance. I am merely advocating for rising above — while hateful individuals are justly lowered into the cold, unforgiving ground.

Senior staff columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

He was an architect of antagonism — living proof that a constant flow of hatred can fuel the human body well into old age.

Fred Phelps, the once-ringleader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, has died at 84. Many will be overjoyed upon hearing this news. In case anyone is unfamiliar as to why that may be: Phelps, his children and his church are widely known for disdainful protests, such as picketing the funerals of American soldiers and posthumously scolding them for supporting homosexuals.

In a 2010 interview with the Huffington Post, Phelps explained his rationale, saying, “Soldiers’ funerals are the right place. The Lord has killed him. The soldier shouldn’t be there dead. But this is the God that delivered 10 different plagues — and nothing worked. So here we are.”

Phelps’s years of psychological torment and public disruption have led to two polarizing positions for individuals in regards to his funeral: revenge or peace?

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said, “This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger and strife he sowed and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all.”

Accompanying Witt’s sentiment, an array of bloggers are urging readers to embody a higher sense of morality and leave Phelps’ family be.

But  human beings have a deep-seated desire for retribution, as implied by America’s system of capital punishment. And it’d be ever-so-pleasurable to see the WBC receive a taste of its own medicine when its main firebrand’s flame goes out.

Large wooden signs with admonishing words undulating passionately across the street from Phelps’s funeral would certainly be a kind of poetic justice — especially if rainbow-colored. And there’s no doubt many are scrambling to hatch a plan on the best way to go about this.

Before such deliberations, however, here are some facts about this notorious fellow.

Phelps used to be a civil rights attorney — he was eventually disbarred — who once fought for the eradication of Jim Crow laws in Topeka, Kan. He made the claim that he “systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws” of that city.

Eventually, Phelps switched from protecting the rights of downtrodden blacks to supporting the condemnation of the downtrodden gay community. On top of that, 11 of his 13 children have law degrees — if this doesn’t showcase the glaring difference between academic intelligence and emotional intelligence, I’m not sure what will.

With this information, one can see that there is some complexity in Phelps’ bigotry. His “hate dial” is not set to maximum overdrive, as opposed to the clichéd prejudice of a KKK member. But, inspired by biblical belief, this old, decrepit man drew a line on civic duty when it came to homosexuals. Phelps felt that unless we did something about “the gays,” Americans would eventually turn into proverbial stones of salt like those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Clearly, he was being led by Old Testament notions of denunciation, not the more merciful displays of character brought about by Jesus — i.e., “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

But it’s suspicious that the only minority the WBC rants about is the LGBT community — it doesn’t care about murderers, liars, adulterers, idolaters, etc. It’s all about the gays — and sometimes Jews.

At least Bulldog Ministries — the demagogues who like to roam UH’s campus — covers a larger spectrum of “sinners.” According to it, neither the sex-before-marriage males nor the short-shorts wearing females of UH will be allotted ice water in hell.

I’ve sat directly in front one of these Bulldog “gentlemen,” smiling and watching them exercise their freedom of speech. Some students pulled out their phones and enjoyed the show; others went about their daily business, desensitized to such antics.

If 18- to 20-year-olds do not agree with the venom spouted from a fanatical group on campus yet can still comport themselves in a respectful manner, perhaps the same should be done with Phelps’ funeral and the WBC as a whole.

No, thank you, though.

How about this: A massive order of rainbow-colored flags, jackets, signs — the works — are ordered by anti-WBC groups. If and when Phelps’ funeral is held — maybe on a cloudy, muggy day — protesters light up the streets and avenues with their pro-gay attire and sing songs — preferably by Elton John or Freddie Mercury — of love, joy and peace.

Actions such as this might seem petty and childish. And rightly so — fire doesn’t put out fire. But it should be done, because Phelps and the WBC win no matter what. Whether or not people respond to the WBC’s hate, its members are satisfied.

Phelps made this clear in a 1999 interview with the magazine Mother Jones.

“You understand this is a win-win situation for me. If the fags win, and the country accepts them, then fine. Then they win. But it’s the end,” Phelps said.

Such words arouse much anger and resentment. So go ahead and satisfy that vengeful instinct. Don’t let them have all the fun. Return the WBC’s non-violent displays of hatred with non-violent displays of unapologetic homosexual support and acceptance.

Opinion columnist Marcus Arceneaux is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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