Westboro Leader Fred Phelps Passes: Public Reaction Pours Out
Fred Phelps, creator of the aggressively anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church based in Kansas, died at age 84 of natural causes at 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday night. In life, Phelps was known for his contribution to the world’s unwritten book of Hate Speech Idioms behind such slogans as “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates America,” and “Fags Die, God Laughs.” He drew heavy attention by voicing his opinion that 9/11 was a punishment for homosexuality in America, and for picketing the funerals of soldiers and members of the LGBTQ community. He called the families of dead soldiers “degenerates” in an interview with Huffington Post. “You’re not going to get nowhere with that slop that ‘God loves you.’ That’s a diabolical lie form hell without biblical warrant,” said Phelps back in 2004 to the Patriot News, a hate-based belief he vocalized often as a biblical literalist.
During his life, Phelps was given a hefty amount of media coverage for his public antics and political/religious messages, having been featured in Rolling Stone and the Washington Post, as well as on 20/20 and The Ricki Lake Show, and most other news outlets. It seems only appropriate that his death gain the same attention. So let’s take a look at some of the most notable public responses to the death of Fred Phelps.
As a friend just said, “It’s oddly poetic that Fred Phelps died on the first day of spring.”
— Jonathan Capehart (@CapehartJ) March 20, 2014
“Fred Phelps will not be missed by the LGBT community, people with HIV/AIDS, and the millions of decent people across the world who found what he and his followers do deeply hurtful and offensive,” said the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, according to CNN. “While it’s hard to find anything good to say about his views or actions, we do give our condolences to his family members at what must be a painful time for them.”
Ironic as ever, the Onion noted his many “accomplishments” in a satirical obituary.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) March 20, 2014
The Southern Poverty Law Center called his church “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” according to CNN.
— The Nation (@thenation) March 20, 2014
Esquire tweeted on the timing of Phelps’ death. Phelps had, in the past, criticized popular child television host Mr. Fred Rogers for not preaching to children on the “sin of homosexuality.” Phelps ultimately picketed his funeral.
— Esquire Magazine (@Esquiremag) March 20, 2014
Public venting aside, some responses struck a more uplifting note on the death bell of a man who rung such hatred during his life time. His granddaughter, who left the Westboro Baptist Church about a year ago – an institution that was largely comprised of her fellow family members — tweeted both an apology and her sorrow at his passing.
I understand those who don’t mourn his loss, but I’m thankful for those who see that “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
— Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
I’m so sorry for the harm he caused. That we all caused. But he could be so kind and wonderful. I wish you all could have seen that, too. — Megan Phelps-Roper (@meganphelps) March 20, 2014
A Kansas gay rights group spoke on Sunday to ask that the gay community to respect the privacy of the “notoriously anti-LGBT” pastor, according to the Kansas-based Wichita Eagle – a considerable restraint considering the many in mourning in the LGBTQ community in Kansas whose privacy was violated by Phelps and followers. Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, asked that the family and friends of Phelps be respectfully left to mourn.”Our position on whether or not to publicy protest, demostrate, or celebrate his passing remains the same: Please don’t,” said Witt. “This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed,” said Witt, “and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all.
“Ultimately, the antics of Fred Phelps and his followers will be nothing more than an obscene footnote in the history of equal rights,” he continued. This is a sentiment shared by a surprising number, who encourage others to let the death go quietly, freeing themselves of the weight. “Drive your enemies really crazy: Love them,” suggests Washington Post author Steven Petrow, quoting an old saying, adding that, “Okay, maybe not love, but at least not hate. Never hate.”
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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS