How Should We React to the Passing of Fred Phelps?

fred phelps dying

On Philly Mag’s news blog, reporter Joel Mathis attempts to answer a question many of us likely pondered when we read the headlines over the weekend about Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps being on his deathbed. Should we gloat? Take the high road, and let the guy go in peace? Personally, I don’t feel comfortable reveling in anyone’s demise — no matter how terrible they were — but Mathis offers an interesting take:

Fred took a relatively mainstream position — we don’t like gay sex, we don’t want gays to have legal protections — and put the ugliest possible human face on it. He so fully and loudly and hatefully occupied the right-most position on the spectrum of arguments that a lot of people who might’ve offered a more appealing public face against gay rights (in churches, especially) fled closer to the center in their rhetoric in order to avoid being associated with him. Fred pushed the conversation to the left from the right — extraordinary, because Fred’s viewpoints only represented Fred, and not that of any mainstream political movement — and thus probably sped up the acceptance of things like gay marriage and gays in the military by a decade or two.

Fred Phelps was thus, perhaps, greatest force for gay rights this country has ever known. Sometimes, a movement needs a Martin Luther King Jr. And sometimes it needs a Bull Connor. Fred was the latter. He will die defeated. That is something we can surely celebrate.

Read the rest of his piece here.