Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps: The Gift That Keeps On Sinning.

In the hours following the death of Fred Phelps, any number of blog posts have offered commentary on his notorious earthly existence. Political Progressives and bona fide Christians, for the most part, have gone to great lengths to reinforce their core values of tolerance and compassion. LGBT Advocates and those who had some personal interaction or involvement with Mr. Phelps have done an excellent job in effectively highlighting the flaws and faults in his character, by refusing to be baited by his demise into the further proliferation of one of the more senseless arguments in which a true Christian would ever engage.

It isn't my purpose to discuss the family members of the deceased who had deserted him during his life. The fact that those who knew him best; his children, were pretty much split on whether they wanted anything to do with a pretty good indicator of the state of his own heart, as well as a sad commentary on his contribution to the universe.

Neither is it my purpose to advocate, for or against any "cause". In my humble opinion, it is unnecessary to address the merits of anything which the deceased ardently supported...or psychotically railed against, in order to determine the geographic information from which to identify his eternal resting place.

Finally, it is also not my place to judge the man. I confess maintaining an opinion regarding why I believe this man was more dangerous than a vile of anthrax. I confess what I believe is a legitimate position suggesting that Fred Phelps, the person, was no more than a symptom, of a disease which touches four corners of the world, crosses religious, political, sociological and other boundaries...and which will continue to destroy lives long after his death.

The world can't help but know that Fred Phelps believed that God hates certain people. He screamed that sentiment to anyone who would engage him, and to many who just happened to be walking or driving by during his daily psycotic episodes. Fred expanded upon his notion of Godly hate, during various interviews, where he suggested that, "You can't preach the Bible without talking about God's hate".

For nearly two decades, I've offered numerous "Pastors" an opportunity to discuss the progression of Godly thought, understanding, wisdom, knowledge and love...which begins with the parable of Eden, includes an attempt to destroy the earth, a promise to never do that again, a second angry moment where the promise might have been broken...and the introduction of The Prince of Peace as the Holy and Living Sacrifice which resulted in the prospective Redemption of all mankind. A few years before that...I actually had a chance to meet Fred Phelps. And, while some might think Fred "wasn't a real Pastor"...or "wasn't part of the real Baptist Church"...or, was recently excommunicated...or was just cerifiably crazy...I can tell you that a half dozen "Nationally recognized" Pastors of megachurch congregations that I interviewed for a book I had been working on, made almost as much sense as Mr. Phelps.

What puzzled me most about this entire group, was the almost complete devotion to the Old Testament...while professing Christianity, and simultaneously ignoring the teachings of Jesus Christ. If Fred Phelps had started his church in the 70's or 80's instead of the 50's...and hired the right PR people...he could be Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, or any one of a dozen others and preached the same Old Testament line...and today, we would all be watching national news accounts of his funeral and lauding this Grand Bastion of All Things Godly. We wouldn't even have to pretend to be nice.

But...alas this wasn't and isn't the case. So, back to Fred.

I went to the State of Kansas on what was supposed to be a quick stop in Manhattan, on the way to Major League Baseball. One injury and two years later, I was 19, had an undergraduate degree, and was entering law school. On my first day in law school, a classmate whose father was a lawyer, told me to find a job as a law clerk as soon as possible. Two days later... I was working for an amazing guy named Robert Tilton. Bob was everything anyone who has never been to Kansas would expect a Kansan to be. He was also absolutely everything that you would never expect to find outside of New York or Los Angeles.

Bob was the State Chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party...and not because he was the only Democrat in the state, either. He was a hardcore personal injury, criminal and domestic relations lawyer in Topeka, Kansas. Oh sure, he said that the firm had a "General Practice". But...outside of those three areas, and the new business generated by a wet-behind-the-ears associate, Bob and his partner, Wilbur Dillon, didn't really do much else. You won't find his name on any of the documents relating to the disciplinary case against Fred Phelps which resulted in his disbarment by the Kansas Supreme Court. But...the fact that our office overlooked the State Capitol and the Offices of the State Bar Administrator, made it pretty easy for even the 350 pound Chairman of the wrong political party to get in and out of a few offices without being noticed.

At that time, Fred's entire gaggle of gay bashers could fit into a Smart Car, or at least it's Yugoslavian predecessor. And, since Fred was only a few months away from never practicing law again...oh, AND he was thoroughly pissed off at anything resembling the government...protests by he and his Gang of Four, were daily occurrences at the Kansas State Capitol Building, whether or not the Legislature was in Session. During some part of almost every afternoon, while I was in Bob's office, my boss would stare out of his window, rip his pipe out of his mouth, slam it on his half-moon shaped desk and say something that almost always sounded like, "Look at the sick summbitch...The world's gonna be a whole lot better off once that bastard's ticket gets punched"...meaning that he would soon be disbarred. Years later, I remember asking Bob if he had any idea that Fred Phelps getting disbarred would be Fred's  springboard into national disrepute? We were on the phone, but I swear I could see him shake his head as he said, "You know I'm not a death penalty guy...but, in his case, I'd make an exception".

Between those two points along the time-space continuum...I had begun the quest to have what I customarily refer to as faux-Christians help me to understand their allegiance to hate, guilt, punishment and eternal damnation. Fred didn't really know who I was. And thankfully, he didn't really know how my old boss felt about him. So...when I wrote my first note to Fred, asking if he would chat with me about God, the fact I knew people he knew, was at least acquainted with one of his children, and came across as a sincere individual, made Fred a little less reluctant to engage.

I guess it didn't hurt that I could have been seen as a person perhaps shopping for a new church, as well. Judge me, if you will, for perhaps being less than completely candid with the dearly departed...I can live with that.

The bottom line is that in the time spent talking, and during one other exchange, Fred Phelps spoke of "The Law" as though the Living Jesus had never appeared in human form; as though no sacrifice had been offered in total satisfaction of the sin of generations yet to come...and, as though a single bad thought or act would send you, your family, and everyone you ever knew...straight to Hell.

Each time I mentioned Jesus, I was met with a dozen verses from Leviticus. And, when I pressed further, responding with the red-letter words of Jesus Christ, on points as basic as who Jesus was, how He lived, the charge He issued to His Disciples, love, forgiveness, tolerance, and of course redemption...Fred finally launched into the Book of Revelation...without even addressing any of the issues I raised originally. It was as though we spoke two different languages...A fact confirmed when I realized that the sound made by a telephone being slammed down, apparently means, "Smile, Jesus loves you...Have a nice day," whatever language it was that he had been speaking.

The whole point of this posting (and I understand if you haven't figured out motivation for this rant) is that you didn't have to be gay to be offended by Fred Phelps and his Legion of Doom. You didn't have to be the parent of a fallen soldier, anyone with a terminal illness, the unintended victim of  a natural disaster, or any individual who advertently found their way onto the Westboro Baptist (that weren't really Baptists) Shit List.

All you had to be was a follower of Jesus Christ, who absolutely understood that Fred Phelps IS one of THE people that Christ, Himself, referred to in Matthew 7:21-23. In that passage...Jesus advises, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who does the things My Father in Heaven wants him to do, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Many people will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not preach in Your Name? Did we not do powerful works in Your Name? Then I will say to them in plain words, I never knew you."

When I read of Fred's entry into hospice care, I admit, I had numerous conversations with several very devoted followers of Jesus Christ, as well as several of my Jewish friends, people of other religions, and some whose faith is placed currently in no more than their earthly satisfactions. Regardless of faith, or lack thereof...the notion that Fred was essentially "a bad guy" was pretty much universal. A few of us, myself  included...felt that his bad acts notwithstanding...Fred had time to actually accept the Savior he had professed such unconditional fear of, throughout the totality of his adult life. I even held out hope that he would do just that. I was even encouraged by the rumors of his recent excommunication...ostensibly due to the softening of certain non-specific positions which became in conflict with church elders. Perhaps, I had high hopes, because my own elders and I have occasionally not seen eye to eye on matters that I truly believed weren't automatically understood to a greater degree by them...based exclusively on their status.

In any event...I really don't knew if Fred accepted Christ in his final days. But, from the limited commentary offered by those closest to the man...he appears to have held onto his core belief, dedication to Leviticus, and ignorance of all things Jesus, until the very end...and beyond.

The damage he did to himself, is eternal. But, the damage he did to those of us who will yet  be forced to contend when some number of Phelps', Rogers', Drains' and others of their ilk, is the gift that keeps on sinning...courtesy of Fred Phelps. One member of the Drain branch of tbe Phelps extended family tree acknowledges openly, that their family lived in Florida...until their father became obsessed with Westboro Baptist, and relocated the family to Kansas. Not long after...Phelps' were mixing with Drains...and much later, even Fred's warped view of the universe wasn't even bent ENOUGH to keep him in charge. The inmates are now running the asylum. And, anyone who feels that the ghost of a disbarred Kansas Lawyer, will not rear its 70 headed serpent, over, and over, and over again...or that some family not named Drain...will not embark on a pilgrimage to Topeka at some point during the next rain delay of a NASCAR race...simply does not understand the commitment of a band of psychotics who REVEL in proudly acknowledging that they are "the most hated people in America".

Fred is no more. He has cried, "Lord, Lord,"...and likely been disavowed by his Creator. But, excommunicated or not...the vile of anthrax which his laboratory spawned in 1955, has a half-life of...FOREVER.  My only hope is that one day, the sky opens up, the sun shines down upon the remaining Phelps', Rogers', Drains', and the balance of their klan...and that instead of hearing the Voice of a God they do not know, offer more advice on peace, love and tolerance...that instead they hear the voice of their disgraced, disbarred, excommunicated FORMER PROPHET...wherein he gives them advance notice of the next Wal-Mart buy one-get one deal on asbestos underwear. Maybe then, we as a people would have at least seventy fewer false prophets to ignore, while we are all just trying our best to be decent human beings...regardless of who we pray to when we lose a job, can't pay the mortgage, or get a call we weren't expecting, from our doctor.

I can't say it was nice knowing you, Fred. I won't say I'm happy that you're gone. I hope you did reconcile yourself to Jesus Christ. But...on the odd chance you did not...there are at least 70 souls you MIGHT be able to save, by turning on your GPS. I'm guessing that once you're collective inbred progeny get a bird's eye view of your new digs...our world, and maybe even yours, will be a better place.

Rest in Contemplation, Fred. I'm pretty sure "Peace" is no longer an option.

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