Soulforce Statement on the Death of Fred Phelps
“My adversary is also animated by common dignity, worth, love and Spirit; we are both members of the same human family; we are people in need of reconciliation.” – From “Seven Soulforce Beliefs about My Adversary”
How difficult these words are to read when thinking about Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, who died last Wednesday night. For many of us, he was a man who embodied society’s worst practices of hatred toward the LGBTQ community.
But he was an equal-opportunity hater, spreading his distorted concept of Biblical truth to hatred of Catholics, Jews, Christian evangelicals, military families, firefighters and police, victims of terror, entire nations, even Jerry Falwell – hardly anyone was immune.
It is not our responsibility to tell these communities how to feel about the passing of this man, only to state that our position is not one of celebration of his death.
This position does not come from a desire to “take the high road” and elevate ourselves morally above Fred Phelps and his followers. Instead, we take this time to mourn a lost opportunity for reconciliation, and to recognize our own complicity in continuing oppressions of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, religious bigotry, and class-based injustice.
We grieve for losses in the LGBTQ community of those who have been attacked, killed, or taken their own lives in despair because of messages of hate sown by fundamentalists like Phelps. Our hearts are heavy as we remember people we have lost since Phelps’ began spreading his public message.
Some of these include: Gwen Araujo, Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Nicholas West, CeCe Dove, Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, Billy Jack Gaither, Tyler Clementi, Larry King, Marco McMillan, James Craig Anderson, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, Danny Vega, Barry Winchell, Chrissie Bates, Fred Martinez. These are just some of the high-profile cases. As many in our community know all too well, they are just a representative few.
Phelps’ death is a time to remember all who have been hurt by hate; to redouble our efforts to resist hate nonviolently; and to hold out hope for reconciliation.
There is so much work still to be done. We are all “people in need of reconciliation.”