Picketing the Picketer: Why Fred Phelps’ funeral should not be protested.

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Last Wednesday (March 19th, 2014), the pastor and figure-head of the recently infamous Westboro Baptist Church passed away, at the age of 85. Phelps’ church was known for brandishing very radical and impetuous chants and signs during its countless protests and picketing of the funerals of soldiers, young children, members of the LGBT community, and several other people who met tragic ends.
In response, there have been several rallying calls to protest, picket, and even celebrate Phelps’ own funeral, backed by ideas such as “What goes around comes around” or “He and his followers deserve to know how they made people feel, and they should suffer the same grief that he brought upon the families of others.” And while these and countless other validations for the action against Phelps can be seen as “fair” in the old biblical saying “an eye for an eye”, one should take pause and allow one’s thoughts to digest a related Ghandi quote: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Firstly, it’s important to understand the message behind the Westboro Baptist Church’s ideology, or in other words, the reason they have protested events held private and mournful for the typical America. On the WBC website FAQ page when asked “What would you do if a homosexual attended your church?” they responded: “By a fear of God, we would declare the whole counsel of God to them, lest their blood should be on our hands. We would share the Gospel (good news) with them, and we would treat them like we would treat any other person on this earth. We would treat them with kindness, and follow those scriptural injunctions that require that we preach the gospel to every creature.” In several other statements, they constantly refer to the Bible to give reason to and back up what they’re doing, using “God’s Word” itself to justify its actions. So in essence, they are just practicing their own religion.
Even still, to many people they are still spreading hate, fear, and prejudice across America, and they deserve to get a taste of what it’s like from the other end. So why is picketing Fred Phelps’ funeral a bad idea?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. Most religions around the world share a similar version of the Golden Rule (Treat everyone how you would like to be treated). So simply enough, one could just practice one’s own religion, or just apply the Golden Rule in general. One could also make the claim that protesting Phelps’ funeral would be stooping to their level, and that one should be better than that.
In addition, the WBC only survives off the media attention it receives from their protests. If a retaliation demonstration occurred at Phelps’ grave, the press would flock to the story. This provides incentive and just another example to help the WBC further victimize itself and promote a rally cry for further protests by the WBC. If no picketing or unexpected acts of kindness occur at the funeral, with the head of their church gone, it’s quite likely that the organization will fall apart and become just a part of history.
My personal reasons to refrain from a protest of Phelps’ funeral are different, however. After all the pain and turmoil his organization has put people through, it makes sense to want revenge. But people can easily become blind to the fact this is an old man, who has a family like you and I. Not picketing is just common courtesy, rather than saving face for an underlying goal. Our world is one that focuses on hate, one that neglects uplifting and positive stories in place of tragedies and sob-stories just because it’s an easier sell. It may feel good to “avenge the wrongs” of what the WBC has done, but it isn’t going to change the past, and may hazardously alter the future. Yet, my question is, why add to the hatred? To hate one who hates is to hate one-self, after all. So instead of firing revenge backed animosity to Fred Phelps and his family, I propose that one says nothing, or better yet, offers condolences and sympathy.
(note: I’m a supporter of equal rights for everyone, including racial minorities, different sexualities, and women, and do not support the West Boro Baptist Church nor its actions. I just feel it’s healthier to forgive and let go rather than seek revenge and add to the suffering.)

By: Sam Cappelli

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