Forgetting Fred Phelps

Luke Londo

Luke Londo
Luke Londo

I don’t remember when I first heard the name “Fred Phelps.” But I remember how I felt.Phelps, the former leader of the “Westboro Baptist Church,” was equal parts messianic and iconoclastic, and his church more a Manson-esque cult than a community of Christians.

While I can’t recall which soldier’s funeral he was protesting (military funerals were their funeral du jour), along with most of his church’s delegation, the signs they carried are an indelible part of my memory.God Hates Fags. Thank God For Dead Soldiers. God Killed Your Sons. Priests Rape Boys.

The moment I became aware of Phelps and his church, I vowed that when the day came that Phelps was dead, I would travel to his funeral. I would repay his family with the same hate and vitriol they spewed all over the country, exacting the same pain he inflicted on fellow LGBTs and the families of our soldiers.

God Hates Phelps. God Killed Your Pastor. It was going to be the glorious comeuppance of the communally wronged.

Upon Phelps’ recent death on the first day of spring, I realized how shortsighted my intentions were. Phelps’ church has been playing the same game for years, one that centers on their desperate desire for attention.

The only thing that has fed the zeal of the Phelps clan, other than unrighteous hate, is the incessant coverage they’ve received for their reprehensible conduct by prominent publications and news outlets.

When the Supreme Court ruled that their protests were a valid exercise of free speech, some outlets, eager to milk the story for all it was worth, wrote click-bait articles like “The Top 10 Worst Signs of the Westboro Baptist Church,” and “Click Here for an Interactive Map of the Funerals the Westboro Baptist Church has Protested.”

Westboro reveled in the spotlight, subjecting the masses to their bigotry. It was precisely what they wanted; each outlet was a pawn in their grand scheme.

Yes, it’s well-known that Fred Phelps has been an accidental LGBT hero, as it was the funeral of Matthew Shepard that vaulted the Westboro Baptist Church into the spotlight. In Laramie, Wyo. in 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally assaulted and tied to a fencepost and left to die, merely because he was gay.

As a result, Matthew Shepard’s death became a rallying cry for LGBTs, resulting in an anti-hate crime law signed in 2009 bearing Matthew’s name. Judy Shepard, his mother, has been quoted as saying, “Oh we love Freddy. If it wasn’t for him there would be no Matthew Shepard (Act).”

But ultimately, despite any good they’ve unwittingly done, their undeserved prominence is the product of our collective attention. They live to have their message consumed, yet are nothing more than clowns selling tickets to a freak show they’ve cultivated, every set of eyes emboldening their cause.

I won’t be attending Fred Phelps’ funeral. In fact, this is the last time I allow myself to let his church consume my thoughts, no matter who takes over Phelps’ mantle. I encourage you to do the same.

Let them fade into obscurity. Let their words fall upon deaf ears, and their signs upon unseeing eyes, so that their message may die with Fred Phelps for all eternity.The only thing that they deserve more than our hate is our indifference.