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Fred Phelps: In Memoriam

Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (November 13, 1929 – March 19, 2014)

Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (November 13, 1929 – March 19, 2014)

On March 19, 2014 Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church – owners of domains like godhatesfags.com, godhatesamerica.com, and godkillssoldiers.com and infamous for their protests at over 54,000 funerals of soldiers, gay activists, and child victims of massacres – died.

Phelps has long represented to me and many others just how dangerous unbridled religious fervor, manifested in hateful words on neon signs directed at societies outcasts, could be. His words hurt, and they infected people deep down – especially those sitting directly under his thundering voice, evidenced by his legacy in the continuation of Westboro.

Fred Phelps proved to us that words hurt; especially when sung loud enough, long enough, and with enough conviction behind them.

Phelps also proved that, when confronted with long and loud and convinced words of hate – it must be met by an equal or greater force. Fred showed us how to love the disenfranchised in ways that he couldn’t by forcing us to examine ourselves through his eyes and the eyes of his god.

I think Fred Phelps and his church and his family, for the fact that they have shown us how ugly we can be and in turn drive our desire to be better, are an invaluable part of the last two decades – despite the pain they’ve caused, the words they’ve used, and the passion with which their angered hatred burns.

Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church haven’t been successful in spreading their message. They’ve been successful in ensuring that it’s the most hated message in the country – they’ve been able to bring people together from all walks of life to shout louder, longer, and with deeper conviction a better message in opposition to that of Westboro:  Love.

That’s the real legacy of Fred Phelps – he’s unified a great portion of the country against his message, and the results of that unity have been beautiful.

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I’m not sure that the LGBT community would have the support it does without Phelps and Westboro. That’s a legacy Phelps may not have been proud of, but it is his – and I’m thankful for his life because of it.

In closing, I’m not going to give you platitudes about how you should react to Phelps death. I will remind you that, as the old saying goes, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and that perhaps during the Phelp’s families time of grief the rest of us ought to show the grace they haven’t.

Appropriate Conduct for Christians

Twice in the last three weeks I’ve been witness to two different Christians in group settings openly ridiculing atheists and science. I’ve also in the past seen believers ridicule other believers of a different sort, a double standard by my book.

The first was at my favorite coffee shop, I was there early in the morning and a group of 12 or so men were having a Bible study. I was a little early for work so I decided to sit down for a bit and finish reading The Blind Watchmaker. I overheard one particular gentleman comparing any non-christian with dogs by saying that he expected  bad behavior from non-believers and other faiths because that’s just who they are just like he expected a dog to lick his behind. The same gentleman later said, “What takes more faith; believing that we crawled out of a swamp, or that god created us?” to much agreement from the group.

In this situation I patiently held my tongue, though I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust.  I did later send an email to one of the participants that I happened to know, and last week I attended the study myself. Turns out these guys are really nice, were open to my discussion points on the parts of the Bible they were discussing, and welcomed me into the group very openly. I’ll continue attending. (I do intend to discuss their offenses eventually and write about this entire experience here on the blog.)

The second offense was from a guest pastor that held a moment of reflection at an event I volunteer for every couple months, a live music show that benefits my local arts guild. The pastors first words were a quote of Psalms 14:1, “The Fool hath said in his heart, there is no god”.  He continued to deliver a plea for salvation at a clearly secular event. I’ve yet to email this gentleman but I intend to explain that he need not pity this fool.

The point I’m trying to get to is that for some reason it’s ok to make fun of people and beliefs that aren’t your own in the Christian world and to even do so in a public setting, often with the assumption that those beliefs are so rare in your community that there won’t be anyone particularly offended by such things (and for those few that are, well – obviously they deserve it).

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The Appeal of Holy Books

Fred Phelps, the repugnant leader of Westboro Baptist Church and the  “God Hates Fags” protests at fallen soldiers funerals has one thing in common with Martin Luther King Jr., the most important figure in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s who died in pursuit of equal rights and treatment of all people. That one thing they held in common was that they both believe(d) that the Bible is the Word of God.

There aren’t two people that I can say are more different than these men, yet they are both believers in this supposed “holy” book and consider it the inspiration for their life’s work.  How can two people so unquestionably opposed to one another in every way believe that this book is inspired by their same god?

From the outside looking in it can be rather bizarre for the non-believer to understand why books like the Bible and the Qur’an hold such wide appeal, so much so that they are  the most printed books in the history of print and because so many people have faith in their words they are the most trusted and believed works of all time. What drives people to these books? Is it simply the tradition or do they hold some great advantage over other books to embed themselves into societies?  Most surely it’s a combination of things, but I’d like to examine why it is that the books are so beloved as well as why such seemingly different people can and do adhere to the same texts.

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Who Hijacked Your Faith?

I’m going to start a new series of posts called “Dear Church” , this will be where I’ll put all my frustrated rants and pleadings with the members of the Christian faith I’ve left behind. This will be the first in this series.

Who Hijacked Your Faith?

If you’ve  ever spent a lot of time around Christians, be they devoted or your standard backslider, it’s almost inevitable that a discussion about faith will eventually turn into someone making the claim that “Real Christians ®” would not do or say “x” – replacing “x” with whatever position they oppose and others eschew. The folks that say this often mean well but depend on the notion that their “True Faith ™ ” has been bastardized by what other Christians say and do and furthermore go on to explain why my understanding of their faith is flawed based on my experiences with these hijackers of their faith – meaning I can’t possibly make the rational or informed decision to reject that faith.

Dear Church,

I just want to know, who hijacked  your faith and what are you doing to fix it? Where did things go so wrong?

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