I want very badly to let Fred Phelps’ death pass unremarked upon, mostly because of how I imagine it would aggravate the crotchety old attention whore. But he spent so much of his energy foisting himself onto the queer consciousness, I feel like saying my piece will help me send his bullshit karmically packing along with the rest of him.
If the frightened and tight-hearted bigots of Westboro have taught us anything, it is that not every death is a tragedy. The passing of Fred Phelps is not a loss to the American Community, the Brotherhood of Man, nor even, according to what I have read, to most of his family — a legacy, it is tempting to speculate, on which he might have hoped to improve. He chose the burden of hate that he lugged through this life, and he can take it with him when he goes — he neither needs nor, frankly, warrants any from me. I wish him a more forgiving god than he would ever have wished for any of us, though still I hope he planned ahead and packed mostly for exceptionally warm weather.
It seems that Westboro doesn’t believe in funerals for its members, which I find a hilariously convenient tenet of their “faith.” I’m annoyed that there won’t be a funeral for the most famous funeral-crasher since Harold and Maude, but not for the reason you might expect (or for that matter that I would have expected of myself). The only thing that was ever sacred to this man, his megalomaniacal family, or their quasi-political fund-raising-organization-masquerading-as-church was media attention, and the most fitting send-off I can imagine would be for the number of vociferous, sign-waving picketers at his own going away party — be they from military families or the gay community or families or victims of the numerous tragedies he sought to exploit or just the fair-minded community at large — to total Zero.
A couple years ago, I posted what follows on QueerLandia, imagining what a day of reckoning might look like for a Westboro sign-waver. I share it here partly because it pertains, and partly so that I can consider my Last Word on Westboro to have been aired. The only message they have ever cared about disseminating has always been Hey, Look At Me!, and once I get this off my chest, I plan in the future to do no such thing.
The notion of God, whatever or whoever s/he is, hating anything runs completely counter to any idea I’ve ever heard or could ever embrace about a Creator or the Life Force in the Universe. But sometimes you have to meet the opposing team on their playing field, in which spirit we will stipulate, for the sake of this argument, that God is an old, white Christian man with a long white beard mired in resentment and hatred towards His own creation. It’s a stretch, but stay with me.
We’ve all seen the signs: God Hates Fags! God Hates America (except for the First Amendment part)! God Hates Everyone Except Me!! They are painted and waved by the members (all related) of an itty bitty Kansas “church” that is founded on the one and only belief that homosex is the worst of all possible sins, and that God works tirelessly to destroy our nation and its citizens as retribution for “allowing” it to happen (because there might be a way to stop it). They picket at Pride parades and military funerals and basically anyplace where they figure they’ll be able to get a good spot in front of the cameras, and obsessively spew this singular message.
Now, it is easy (and fun!) to mock the hypocrisy and folly of this narrowest of all possible interpretations of the Bible, pointing out all the other things that Leviticus strictly forbids (including menstruation, wet dreams, shellfish and poly/cotton blends) that our society and God both ignore, but I have a broader beef with these protests. Wave your signs, ruin funerals, whatever—it’s tacky as hell, but being tacky is outlawed neither by our government nor (surprisingly) by Leviticus, so do what you gotta do. My question is this: If gay sex is the worst of all imaginable sins and keeps God up at nights gnashing his teeth and plotting ever fierier revenge scenarios, what will he have to say about the fact that you evidently think about it all the time? I was (once) young and single in San Francisco, and now I am partnered with a younger (and ever-ready) man; when God made me gay, he put his back into it, and we have few secrets from each other on that score. I also write queer romantic fiction and have published more than one piece of gay erotica. Said all that to say: I have gay sex, and I think about gay sex as part of my job, and I still don’t think about it as much as these knuckleheads. So when I follow their clunky, fearful, self-loathing view of God and religion to its logical End of Days, I see the members of this church standing before God, rethinking their neon color scheme as they struggle unslyly to hide their single-minded pile of signs, with a lot of explaining to do.
My original title for this post was “God Hates Fag-Bashers.” And he probably does, but nine-year-old Josef Miles, whose response when passing a recent Westboro Baptist protest in Washington was to ask his mom to pull over and let him stage a one-boy counter-protest, challenges that notion,too, with his homemade sign: God Hates No One, he posits. And it is easy to understand where a casual bystander might get this impression. Modern Christians preach (especially at sporting events, for some reason) that God so loved the world that he sacrificed his only son to save it. From himself, granted, but still, the message here is one of love. The Golden Rule to Do unto others as you would have done unto you is a load-bearing tenet of the Christian faith, and no less a Gay-Hating authority than Leviticus itself commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18) The real message that Fred Phelps and his ilk don’t get that they are sending is that “God Hates No One” is a challenging credo to embrace. To preach and holler that God Hates Fill-in-the-blank! is a cinch; the enemy of my enemy is my friend, these folks seem to believe, and if I hate the same people I think God would hate, I should be able to slide into Heaven through the side door without having to answer a bunch of pesky questions about my own conduct at those annoyingly choosy Pearly Gates. (For that is the trouble with vociferously advocating the wrath of a vengeful god — you’ve gotta believe that at some point he’s gonna come looking for you.) To fervently embrace God in a world where God Hates No One means that I don’t get to hate, either; I have to respect people whether I want to or not, and respect their right to get on with their lives even if their lives freak me out, and then take a number on Judgment Day with all the riff raff. Sometimes it’s hard to be held accountable for our beliefs, and certainly for our actions — you will notice the Phelps-follower next to our young Mr. Miles, who at least had the sense to hang his head, turned his back to the camera — but the quiet stand here taken by a fair-minded nine-year-old shows us that it’s nothing like impossible.