On Wednesday, the world said goodbye to Fred Phelps, the head of the volatile and controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
If you don’t know Phelps or his institution by name, you might be familiar with the church’s legacy of picketing military funerals and its “God Hates Fags” signs, which by now have become iconic in our generation’s fight for LGBTQ rights.
Despite its hateful and despicable rhetoric, the church’s actions have united the community and emboldened those who believe in equal rights and treatment for all.
On Thursday, Slate published “How Should Gays Eulogize Fred Phelps?” and discussed the various reactions to his death.
“If you’re truly bent on sticking it to Westboro’s fallen founder, focus instead on the mundane battles for LGBTQ equality taking place in church congregations and courthouses across the country,” said Tyler Lopez of the pastor’s death. “While these events may lack the spectacle that Phelps commanded, they will surely change more hearts and minds.”
The piece comes after widespread celebration and even talk of picketing Phelps’ own funeral as a way to emulate his own disrespect of funerals of those in the military and in the gay community.
I’m saddened and a little perturbed at these reactions, and that this was an actual suggestion by critics of Phelps and Westboro. Clearly, hate begets hate, but this shouldn’t be the case.
Phelps might deserve to have thousands of protesters at his funeral and a gay pride parade galloping on his grave while Cher plays in the background. Still, I have more respect for those that have been hurt by the church’s preaching of hate and are still willing to treat Phelps and his family with the dignity he always denied others.
Nothing is accomplished by arguing and regurgitating hate back into the faces of those who are ignorant and intolerant.
I see similar situations every semester when I’m walking toward the Memorial Union and see preachers proselytizing to the student body.
Often, these preachers will single out students, rudely condemning them for their dress choices and lifestyle decisions. Every year, I see one or two “brave” students step out from the crowd and challenge these men and women.
I can understand the need to defend themselves and check the perceived ignorance before them, but this is ultimately pointless.
Fighting hateful speech with more hateful speech is counterproductive. If we are going to change the minds of men and women who preach hate, we’re not going to do it by shouting back and forth in the middle of the street.
Fred Phelps was an angry, bitter man, but he should not be treated with any less respect because of this. Instead, we should understand the life of this sad individual and bid him farewell in the quietest, most respectful way we can manage.
“(C)heer for the unity Phelps helped provoke, and the displays of goodwill and acceptance he helped foment,” Lopez said. “Share your Westboro experiences and your make-out selfies. But let Fred Phelps exit this life quietly as the lonely, bitter, hateful man he became.”
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi