Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, died last week. While I abhorred what he stood for, I will not rejoice at his death.
It seems those of us who have been vocal supporters of the equality movement are being asked to choose a side. I have already chosen. Equal rights for all people – kindness for all people – including those who are grieving the passing of Phelps, a father and grandfather, in addition to his more public roles.
The “church,” best known for its “God Hates Fags” message and its protesting at soldiers’ funerals, is really little more than a hate group. There is nothing about it I like or respect.
Phelps was responsible for much pain to people, including some people I really care about. But I’m assuming there were people who loved him, and I will not diminish the idea of respect and equality by not offering kindness to grieving people, even if the person they’re grieving didn’t extend the same grace to others.
That’s the tricky thing about tolerance. It has to go both ways, even when it requires us to tolerate things that make our skin crawl. Life has called on me to walk past KKK members and Westboro protesters at various times. I demonstrated my views by attending the events they were protesting, and did so without hurling insults to them on my way by.
Depending on your perception, Phelps was a man filled with hate or a man filled with conviction. I think both are true. Neither affects my decision to send only kindness to those grieving his passing.
I’m well aware some of those are people who hold views that are completely opposite my own. I know they may yet cause more hurt in the world. But if I try to inflict pain on them at this time, it only creates more pain. I see nothing positive about that.
Instead, I will mourn that a human who had more than eight decades on this planet chose to spend many of them causing pain. And I will hope that those who believe in a message of hate will have a change of heart. Regardless, I will continue to be a vocal supporter of equal rights for everyone.
I cannot control what other people do, but I can choose my reaction to it. I’m choosing kindness. It’s not my place to judge if it’s deserved or not.