Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, is dead.
To say that Fred Phelps dabbled in hate is akin to saying how a dog is pretty fierce with a bone. The main object of the man's hatred were people like myself: gay people. I'm not sure why. He and his church used the cloak of religion, but there was obviously something else going on there. A few months ago, Phelps was excommunicated from Westboro Baptist, leading some to speculate the reason why. Was he secretly gay? Did he have a change of heart regarding his treatment of people during his 84-year-long life?
Who knows? Honestly, as someone who never knew the man, the reasons for Phelps' excommunication matters not to me. So why am I taking the time write about him? Because, just this once, I'm going to acknowledge his existence, since he chose to acknowledge mine (and others), even if it was in a vile and contemptible way.
Honestly, I just want to say that I forgive Fred Phelps. That's not easy to do, but the struggle of emotions running through my veins since hearing first of his ill-health, and now his death, are mainly those of sadness. The sadness is for him, oddly enough. Yes, it's terrible that he spewed a philosophy of hatred. Yes, I feel terribly for the families and friends of those whose funerals he picketed. But let's be honest: anyone who does that is a sad spectacle of a human being. All is not right with their world.
Some say that it's wrong to feel pity for anyone but, more than anything, I pity Fred Phelps and his ilk. Their lives must be miserable. They attempt to inflict misery onto others, but many people are stronger than he was, and rise above it. This is why I forgive Phelps. He lived (to my estimation) a miserable life, and died a slow, probably painful death in hospice. I don't take any comfort or glee in that and, frankly, neither should anyone else.
I don't believe in a Heaven or Hell. I don't really believe in an afterlife, but if there is one of some sort, I hope that it's a continuing journey, not a final destination where folks are sorted into eternal glory or punishment. My hope is that spirits such as Phelps grow and learn. It would be nice to run into him at some point, and have it be a pleasant experience. He wouldn't have to apologize. Instead, we'd take solace in knowing that he'd become a more loving soul.