I am bold in guessing Fred “God Hates F*gs” Phelps doesn’t have many fans. Being Catholic, and hence one of his many targets, I am hardly endeared to the man. Phelps and Jack Chick are two people I could live without, and it appears we will lose one soon. I’ve followed social feeds that wish Phelps a long-suffering afterlife in Hell, I’ve seen plans to picket his funeral and do much worse in his memory. I’ve also seen pleas from others saying to leave it be – we let Phelps’s passing go quietly and he won’t get what he really wants, and that’s more publicity.
Recently in a message board I follow a debate sprung forth about whether we should care, if we should point and give it our best Nelson Muntz “Ha-HAH” after decades of misery brought on by the man and his kin. I’ve heard Phelps, in his old age, has alienated much of his family. He may die old and alone – should we pity him? Christians are taught to forgive and turn the other cheek. That poses a challenge for those of us who’ve experienced continued bullying, either from pulpits or curbs from a court-ordered distance. Pope John Paul II once remarked in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope that we cannot be certain who is in Hell and who will go – even Judas. Perhaps the thought of Phelps burning for all eternity gives some comfort, but what more can one expect?
On this message board, somebody posed the question of whether or not people danced on Hitler’s ruined bunker. Of course, one cannot compare Phelps to Hitler – the phrase “worse than Hitler” bothers me, as though one could sink lower. Anyway, it jarred my memory, and I found the full story of the time Groucho Marx visited Germany. He had gone to search his family roots, only to discover the cemetery where his ancestors had been laid was destroyed thanks to anti-Semitic fervor. His reaction to this was to seek out the bunker where Hitler died, and there he danced the Charleston.
If you’ve seen the Charleston, it’s a lively dance. Arms swing, legs kick, all to high-octane music. It’s more complicated than it looks; I’ve tried to dance it myself. No photographs or videos of this exist – we have only the word of those who accompanied Groucho on this trip. At first hearing, you might think damn, that’s badass. I won’t argue that Groucho was a comic genius, somebody I’d hang with, but I think of his mindset at the time. Was it really a happy thing to do, to dance on the closest thing to a grave associated with a monster who nearly wiped out your people? Did Groucho feel better for doing it? It didn’t repair the cemetery, and nobody knows if it healed Groucho’s heart.
Fred Phelps did nothing on the Hitler scale, though he did spawn a group of people who traveled the world as a so-called church. They litigated their way to funerals and events to wave their signs and shout insults to grieving families. They shunned their own children when they started asking questions. I personally wouldn’t blame anybody who had to put up Fred Phelps first-hand to want to dance on his grave, or do much worse. I don’t think it will make up for any pain caused, however.
So, what to do? You can forgive, and move on. You can expend your energy doing something positive. Donate to a worthy cause, one close to you. If you observe a faith, pray. If you don’t, meditate on becoming less like Fred. I will likely pray and meditate on becoming more like Groucho. We need more humor.