“Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.”
Those are the words of George Takei on the death of Fred Phelps, noted homophobe and former pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. While Takei can add “class act” to his long list of titles (Star Trek actor, social media phenom, LGBT activist, playwright and more), I wonder if we will all be able to the the high road like he did, or if we should.
Phelps is the man who got his followers to picket the funerals of AIDS victims and US soldiers killed overseas among others because he felt that they died because of America’s “tolerant” attitudes towards the LGBT community. Since the announcement that he was near death, some people have expectedly been calling for a protest at his funeral.
While that would be justified (probably the only time it ever will be) and inevitably will happen, I wonder if it’s the right course of action or if it will do more harm than good. On one hand, it would be poteic justice. On the other, stooping to someone’s level and using the same deplorable tactics that are part of the reason you dislike them seems ironic at best and defeatist at worst.
If we picket the funeral of a man that we despise, then wouldn’t picketing funerals effectively become a tactic of the progressive left, even if it is just this one time and for just this one man? Isn’t that something Fred Phelps would have wanted? Wouldn’t his hate-filled followers feel some sort of vindication being able to say they are victims of such a dispicable act, if only this once?
It’s also interesting to note that the “church” (actually recognized as a hate group) had very recently excommunicated Phelps, supposedly because he was pushing for less hardcore tactics. Maybe he had recognized the error of his ways and was trying to repent. His followers remain clearly unrepentant and it’s them who would see and be able to capitalize on a funeral picket.
Still, a part of me wants to see a protest happen as I think a part of everyone who considers themselves a progressive or against hate does. If and when it does, I’ll probably feel a sense of satisfaction followed by the realization that we may have played into the hands of the homophobic hate mongers at the Westboro Baptist Church.
While it’s important to condemn what Phelps and his followers say and do, it’s also important that the hate they spread doesn’t propagate more than it already has.