Fred Phelps - a miserable human being who has inhumanely inserted himself again and again into the lives of hurting people at the time of their greatest need for comfort and support - is dying. So writes his son.
I don't know Fred Phelps, of course. I think it's supremely sad that he labels himself a Christian, and I get irritated every time the media decide to give him even an iota of attention, because in doing so they perpetuate a particular narrative that is blatantly at odds with my own personal experience, and the experience of almost everyone I know. If that's Christianity, people think, then I want nothing to do with it. And they are right to reject it. But it's not Christianity. It's not even close.
What IS Christianity - at least my take on the real deal - demands that I forgive this man. But Fred Phelps is just a particular manifestation of a specific ideology. I don't like it - I strongly disagree with it, in fact - but it's no skin off my back. Fred Phelps hasn't personally injured me. He's somebody else's boil on the butt. I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who's had to personally deal with his hatred and insensitivity. But he's just a guy on the news to me. He'll soon be gone. May God have mercy on him even though he had no mercy on or for anyone else.
Here's what's much harder: my guess is that most people have an all-too-real Fred Phelps or two in their lives. They can't conveniently dismiss them or ignore them. Maybe they're ex-spouses or ex-bosses or jerky neighbors. Who knows? The point is that they have deeply, irrevocably wronged you. They are, in fact, your enemy.
My take on the real deal also demands that I forgive those people too. Which seems absurd and impossible. Oscar Wilde makes a game of it of sorts. Forgiving your enemies is just another way of getting back at them. But I don't think that's quite what Jesus had in mind, either. This is the hardest thing to do, of course. I fail at it miserably, all the time. I'm trying, when I fail at this, which I do routinely, to ask for the grace to do what I can't do in my own strength. And sometimes - for fleeting moments, hours, perhaps even days - I can do it. That gives me hope. And when I fail to do it, I ask for more grace and start the process all over again. I don't think this will affect my enemies at all. But I think it will make me more human and more alive. I think it will make me a better human being. So I seek to do it. I've watched plenty of people destroyed by their enemies. They end up as bitter, resentful people no one wants to be around. They end up swallowed by the black hole. This is not who I desire to be. With God's help, this is not who I will be.
All of that's a longwinded way of saying that although I am tempted to hate Fred Phelps, and to exult in his passing, I will strive not to do so.