Running through Facebook posts and news stories before bed, I came across a news story that said Fred Phelps (pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church) was dying (HuffPo article here). As I read through the article, there aren’t very many details, but it stated that he was in hospice and was “near death”. My reaction upon reading this was sadness. My second reaction was…wait, did I just feel sadness for this man?
It took me by surprise. I mean, I have no reason to like this man. However, despite all of the things he has done, I felt sadness for him and his family. As I made a late night trip to the grocery store, I tried to unpack why I wouldn’t want to celebrate this man’s passing. But then it hit me on a couple of levels:
First, I’ve had someone close to me pass and it’s not something that I would wish upon anyone. I was lucky enough to not have to suffer a tremendous loss in my life until my late twenties. However, once I did have someone near to me pass away, you look at death and the death of others differently. I felt sadness for others when someone passed, but now I fully understood the sadness and emotion. I’ve now seen and been a part of the grief and pain that loss causes. I’ve been there for the hospice…I’ve seen someone gradually sink away from the world. It’s not something I would wish on anyone.
Second, I will not become what I hate. George Takei, had some great words around this in a Facebook post, saying:
I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding “God Hates Freds” signs, tempting as it may be.
He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.
Hate begets more hate. I will not be part of this cycle. Hate is taught, we are not born with it. While the folks of the WBC may have pushed hate for years onto the world, I will not add fuel to their fire. Maybe a showing of compassion will cause a crack in their twisted view of the Bible…maybe not, but why not give it a try.
I know some, probably the majority, will still say horrible things about this man’s passing when it happens. They talk down about him and his family. Myself, I will try and take the high road. I will try to practice what I preach. I will remember that every loss impacts someone.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44 (KJV)