Love All Hate None (my thoughts on Fred Phelps)

18 Mar

You may have heard by now that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is in ailing health and presumed to pass soon. You probably are familiar with Fred and Westboro because of their penchant for picketing funerals, gay folks and soldiers are their favorites. They also like to picket productions of The Laramie Project which is a play written about the hate crime death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Fred and Co picketed the funeral with their ‘God Hates Fags’ signs and by doing so, Fred became a character in the play.

Eleven years ago I was the stage manager for one such production at Central Washington University. The Laramie Project had been submitted for the season and not chosen by the committee who chooses such things. The students put together a petition to have it included, and it was. So there I was, 23, Stage Managing this powerful show with a zillion cues (ok, over 600) and we get word that we will be protested. Now their purpose is to get people to not do the show, but we had already fought for it, and we were committed. So we set up security protocol and what if procedures. Not really concerned that the Westboro folks would do something other than protest, but that some person influenced by them my go lone wolf.

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It’s not who you love… it’s how. Kevin Bacon

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All you really need to know: Love all, Hate none

As word spread, the Gay-Straight alliance started selling tshirts in support. The University had Love All Hate None shirts made up and the counter-protest was planned. The local ecumenical group wrote a letter to the editor that they didn’t condone hate, and that Westboro did not reflect their values. The first day of the protest arrived. Westboro had about 10 people on their corner. The folks under the ‘Love All Hate None’ banner? There was about 300. The wellness center had set up hydration stations, folks were drumming and hanging out. And then it happened again with about the same numbers the next night. Oh and we sold out our shows, which for a drama is quite something. One night, I swear half the audience was a sea of red wearing the shirts from the Gay-Straight alliance.

I know that our story is special, but it is not unique. I have heard countless stories about communities coming together to stand for love. In Shawnee Mission Kansas, just down the interstate from Westboro HQ, a high school turned their counter-protest into a fundraiser for AIDS. Recently a football player from the University of Missouri came out and 2000 students and supporters formed a human wall so that the player, Michael Sam, and the campus would be shielded from the Westboro protest. Motorcycle guards and more human walls are created around the country for soldiers funerals. The stories like this go on and on.

But why do I tell you all this?

Some have said we should ignore Fred, others have said we should love picket his funeral. Even before I heard that they don’t have funerals for Westboro members, making attending his funeral not a possibility, I was uncertain of what to do. (And I do live close enough to attend such a thing if I wanted to)

Ever since my experience back in 2003, I have felt that while the words and tactics they use are horrible and hurtful, there is some good in what they do. Now give me a moment to explain before you get out the tar and feathers. When you look at the countless stories of communities coming together for the common goal of respecting the fallen, standing up for love, or simply saying no to hate, can you really say there is no blessing there? The level of compassion and connection that happened in my college town was electric. Our town was rural, a cowtown, it was not liberal, and there was probably plenty of anti-gay sentiment under the surface. This brought people together like never before, to say hey, this kind of bullying is not acceptable. Not in my town. I know that this may not be the universal experience, but I have heard enough testimony to know it has been a common theme.

So no, even if there was a funeral to love picket, I would be staying home. It won’t be changing anyone’s mind. Westboro may be losing it’s founder, but it doesn’t show signs of slowing down it’s work. And to that, I think of a verse from the bible, Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I know it wasn’t your intention Fred, but you have brought together many people in compassion and in a search for greater understanding. Godspeed and may you finally find the peace you have so vigorously been searching for.

PS Let us all continue the work of acceptance, compassion, and standing up for others. Let’s make sure our own legacies deserves a love parade.

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5 Responses to “Love All Hate None (my thoughts on Fred Phelps)”

  1. Sharon Brooks March 19, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    Unconditional love excludes no one. God’s love is this, ours has to be too or it isn’t love.

  2. LF6 March 20, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    Just posted a blog on Westboro as well.

  3. dgregoryburns March 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    Great post! I am interested in what your opinion of mine would be. It is in a similar vien but not exactely the same approach. Here is the link. Let me know what your thoughts are:
    http://www.darianburns.com/2014/03/20/fred-phelps-2/

    • preacherchick March 20, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

      I think you are right on. I’m a rise above, take whatever there is to learn, and get on with making the world a better place kinda gal.

      • dgregoryburns March 20, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

        We need more gals just like you.

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