I really don’t want to talk or to think about Fred Phelps.
By following the extreme logic of their extreme beliefs, he and his family – hardly the worshipful gathering that would dignify the name of church – succeeded in gaining attention far beyond their deserts. Their primary tactic was – sadly, is – abominable behavior. And the society they would have us create in their image would be hellish: either an endless sea of incoherent rage, or lock-step automatons all following the same deadly creed.
I do not want to think about Fred Phelps.
I do not want to think about a trait we have in common. We’re both #stubborn.
I recognize that piece of myself in the relentless efforts to hold back the tide. I do believe that, however long it be, the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice for the disenfranchised, and that includes persons of color, women, those with disabilities, and Phelps’ sworn enemy, those who are LGBTQ. In some ways the arc is bending faster than I’d expected – I never expected to see legal marriage between same-gender couples in my lifetime – and in some ways the arc is bending slower – why, oh why, do African-Americans suffer so much worse than their white counterparts from poverty, unemployment, and violence?
Unlike some, I do not believe in universal salvation. I believe in the forgiveness of God, but also in the righteous judgement of God. I believe that what we do in this life matters. I believe we have a part to play in coming to a reconciliation with God. As my New Testament professor Charles Carlston said many years ago, universalism denies two things: the sovereign power of God to judge and the full capacity of human beings to screw up.
I may have paraphrased him a bit there.
The next critical step, of course, is to remember that the judgement doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to God. So I’m trying to be cautious of judging Fred Phelps himself, even as I have no difficulty condemning what he did. I wonder just how #stubborn he is.
You see, I expect that when I meet God face-to-face (if that’s how it works), I will learn about a whole raft of things that I’ve been wrong about. Many of them, I hope, will be trivial. I’m pretty sure that more than a few will not be. What will that be like? Can I let go of those critical things in order to be reconciled to God?
I hope I wouldn’t be so stubborn that I wouldn’t.
And Fred Phelps? When he comes to the Pearly Gates (if that’s what they are), I believe he’ll find the souls of those he’d picketed waiting for him there: soldiers, Fred Rogers (whose birthday is today), and Matthew Shepard. How will he react? It almost seems that he’d prefer to picket outside the gates of Heaven rather than enjoy its joys with them. Perhaps.
If a person brought to heaven the view that some were there who should not be – and was too #stubborn to let that go – would that not turn Heaven into Hell?