Fred Phelps, organizer and leader of Westboro Baptist Church who gained notoriety when he picketed the funeral of Matthew Sheppard in 1998 and, in more recent years, military funerals, is dead. And, the earth did not move.
However, days before his death social media lit up with laments and suggestions like this one written by Brandon Wallace for thegaychristian.com:
“My final prayer is that people do show up to his funeral as a show of pageantry. I hope they show up with large, decorated signs and billboards. I hope they line the streets leading to the funeral home, and I hope that they make sure they are seen. Finally, I hope every one of those billboards and signs read, “We forgive you.”
Maybe that little sign of love will do something to the remaining members of WBC, and show them that a life filled with hate is really no life at all, but that a life filled with love is the only way to live...”
Phelps’s death barely made national news. There were a few “We forgive you” signs at his funeral. But, was there forgiveness? I am sure that some found temporary solace in picketing Phelps’s funeral, but real forgiveness is not found in a sign or the words on it
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way,
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” (Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Valora K Starr is director for discipleship.
Photo by Tony Webster. Used with permission.