Kent Bush: Phelps’ deep hatred inspired Patriot Guard — a lasting legacy
There have been few people who were ever as easy to hate as Fred Waldron Phelps.
When the Ku Klux Klan disavows any connection with you and repudiates your activities, you aren’t a great guy.
Now the founder of Westboro Baptist Church is dead. After years of proof-texting and twisting scripture to support his cultish and hateful beliefs, he has finally been given the chance to come face to face with the God he so wrongfully represented.
I think it is safe to say no one loved to use the phrase “fags and dykes” more than Phelps.
He said the 9/11 terror attacks were because of “fags and dykes.” Tsunamis were allegedly caused by “fags and dykes.” If the wrong reverend tripped over a rock it was because of “fags and dykes” or sympathizers who enabled their sodomy.
No one spewed more irrational and unbiblical hate than Phelps on any topic. The most ridiculous thing the former civil rights activist and disbarred lawyer purveyed on the public was portraying God as hate and even calling God “America’s terrorist.”
When his family masqueraded as a church and began picketing funerals, his true huckster roots showed through. It was all a ruse to bring attention to himself. It is part of the megalomaniacal cult leader persona. He had to speak for God in a way no one else did. He needed the attention. He wanted to be worshipped.
When worship was unavailable, notoriety sufficed.
Phelps was like all other seemingly irrational hatemongers. His hate grew from deep pain. His mother died of cancer when he was very young. The woman who was helping raise him and his sister died in a car accident. When his father remarried, the relationship between the young Phelps and his father and stepmother crumbled. He never spoke to the couple again and was known to have returned their letters to him unopened.
Phelps took his internal pain and lashed out at homosexuals and used the Bible as a weapon.
Because of he and his wayward followers’ penchant for attacking people in their darkest hour, many have proposed picketing his funeral with their own pithy or hateful signs.
But as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “darkness doesn’t drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”
The best way to celebrate this man’s death is to let him fade to dust with no notice. Notoriety was his goal. Don’t let him achieve it.
The only lasting legacy this man should have is as the man who inspired the Patriot Guard — a group of veterans who ride motorcycles to soldiers’ funerals and place themselves and their flags in between the grieving family and Phelps’ followers. These veterans continued winning battles long after their military service ended. Many men and women who died in the line of duty received a send-off they may never have if not for the protests that had to be thwarted.
In the end, Phelps was destroyed by the monster he created. Late last year, Phelps was excommunicated by the church he founded. His removal was based on his new-found desire to dial down the hate. His disciples decided to push Phelps out rather than letting love in.
A life filled with private pain executed in a public forum is finally over. Phelps earned every harsh word spoken about him. But the best revenge is for all of us to live our lives in opposition to his teachings and actions.
It is easy to see the fountain in his soul from which the hate poured out. I hope he found peace before his final hour. I hope his followers find a new path.
Until then, I hope all of us continue to stand against their misguided missives.
Kent Bush is publisher of the Butler County (Kan.) Times-Gazette.