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]

1 Comment

  • First off, I am surprised to be the first commenting here! As an associate of Bulldog Ministries, I find the exercise of free speech here by the authors rather comical in light of their expressed opinion of the need to limit Bulldog Ministries’ free speech because, first of all, we aren’t students. Hmmmm… So you’d advocate limiting the free speech of a creationist professor for the same reason? How about a lesbian “women’s lib” professor defending women’s rights? After all, she’s not a student. How about a non-student speaker defending Global Warming who is invited by some UofH department? Or do you defend the use of your “non-student” criteria only in the case of what or who you consider to be “decrepit, hateful, disrespectful and narrow-minded?” Hypocrites!

    As for Westboro Baptist Church’s pastor, Fred Phelps, not too many open air evangelists appreciate the comparison, especially when you consider Phelp’s gospel being a “gospel of works righteousness” that doesn’t save anyone. Although he used the label “Baptist,” no biblical Baptist would acknowledge such a recipe for salvation in light of Ephesian 2:8-9, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ironically Fred Phelps and Co. returned to the age-old salvation recipe that they thought they were distancing themselves from – that defended by the Roman Catholic Church and a myriad of other religions and cults. Shirley Phelps-Roper, WBC leader and one of Fred Phelp’s daughters, has gone on record with “Fighting for the Faith” radio host Chris Rosebrough, defining the gospel as “obedience to God’s Law.” The only problem with WBC’s “gospel” is that it is essentially the same “gospel” of every non-Christian religion and even some who call themselves “Christian” (e.g., Mormonism, Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly topples this false “gospel,” so we are left with only one conclusion: Westboro Baptist Church teaches biblical heresy and should therefore be labeled a “cult.”

    If this isn’t enough to distinguish Bulldog Ministries from WBC, maybe the authors need to stick around and listen to our message the next time we’re on campus. We teach the biblical gospel, which means “Good News”:

    “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast]the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

    If a person genuinely repents of his or her sins (i.e., turns from sin to God) and places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (according to 1 Cor. 15), he or she will be saved from God’s eternal wrath.

    So, the authors’ attempts to link confrontational evangelistic groups like Bulldog Ministries to “cults” like Westboro Baptist Church fails. While Westboro emphasizes God’s justice and wrath (which ARE biblical attributes of God) and leaves out His mercy, grace and love toward repentant sinners, confrontational evangelistic ministries like ours seeks to maintain a biblical balance: “‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.'” – Ezekiel 33:11a

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