Hate speech, heresy and the lesson of Fred Phelps

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior
March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps' hate speech was a reminder that the freedom to be wrong - even to the point of heresy - is necessary to avoid heresy.

March 25, 2014

A friend of mine and former Kansan, Colt, wrote some meaningful words on this subject via FaceBook. To paraphrase his sentiments…

“I spent a large part of my youth and college years in Kansas, so I was never far from Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. I walked by their protests to many plays, lectures, dances, and sometimes on a Sunday going to the grocery store and thinking are they protesting today?

I don't think it's right to ever celebrate someone's death. Everyone gets caught up in their own version of the world, surrounds themselves with like-minded people, and some of us make the wrong choices and suffer for it. Anyone with that amount of hate was obviously having a very unhappy life, and if we should 'celebrate' anything it's that his suffering is over.

Besides that though, I always used to joke that Fred Phelps was secretly a gay ally. Think about it...even in Kansas, one of the most conservative states in our great country, he made people choose sides, and no one wanted to be on his side. He took arguments people made out of 'caring' and 'religion' to their ultimate conclusions and laid bare the heart of anyone who 'loved the sinner but hated the sin.' He made everything about 'the gays' and by protesting things like military funerals he made people realize we can all be victims of intolerance.

So, ironically Fred Phelps was a force for good in the gay community. I still like to think that the former civil rights lawyer who once rode his bicycle across the entire state of Kansas to campaign for governor (he was and did!) was secretly in on the joke. If not, may he still rest in peace.”

Karen Swallow Prior
March 28, 2014

Thanks for helping flesh out the human in this man even more. There has been much commentary on how Fred Phelps and his followers did in fact aid in increasing acceptance of the gay community (including this Washington Post article).

Humanity is such an interesting riddle. In a way, Phelps is all of us writ large.

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