Sunday, March 23, 2014

Prayer, Love, and Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps died Wednesday, March 19, 2014, of natural causes. He was 84. He was the "God Hates Fags/God Hates You" pastor.

According to a CNN article, quite a few folks called him 'the most hated man in America.'1

I do not agree with Mr. Phelps' beliefs, and think his followers' habit of disrupting funerals was wrong. But I do not hate Fred Phelps. I'll explain why in a bit.

(ABC News, via, used w/o permission)

(Reuters photo, via, used w/o permission)

Mr. Phelps' regrettable slogans gained national attention, thanks in part to the untiring efforts of his disciples and the signs they carried. I think Mr. Phelps legacy will endure, at least for a short while.

Prayer Couldn't Hurt

(From Thomas Cole, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I have prayed that Mr. Phelps will rest in eternal light, and find in death the peace which seems to have eluded him in life.

No pressure, but if praying for him seems like a good idea, you might find these words suitable: or not.
Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
That's an English translation of an old prayer for the dead. When said for more than one person, it goes like this, if memory serves:
Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine Requiem, et lux perpetua luceat eis: Requiescant in pace. Requiem. Amen.
We use the English version of that prayer in the parish church down the street, by the way.

Love, Reason, and Being Catholic

I do not hate Fred Phelps, or his followers. My beliefs won't allow that.

For Catholics, there are two basic rules:
We're also told that we can make reasoned decisions: and should act as if our love matters. (Catechism, 1731-1767)

Feeling all warm and fuzzy about my neighbor is okay, but it's not required. I've written about emotions, reason, and getting a grip a few times, including:
What the Catholic Church says about folks who are homosexual is not what Fred Phelps preached. For starters, we're not allowed to hate anybody.

We believe what Jesus said:
"For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him. "
(John 3:16-17)

Driving Drunk, Getting a Grip

I haven't seen one of those "friends don't let friends drive drunk" public service announcements for years. The phrase has become a cliche, but the idea is still valid.

Sometimes being a friend means not letting your friend do something stupid, and potentially destructive: even if the friend really wants to drive.

Now, about human beings, sex, and getting a grip — We come in two basic models: male and female. Human sexuality is basically good. How we use our sexuality can be good, or not. (Genesis 1:27-31; Catechism, 2331-2391)

Some acts are wrong, no matter what. For example, deliberately killing an innocent person is always wrong: no matter how angry I might be. Legitimate self-defense is okay, and that's another topic. (Catechism, 2261, 2263-2269)

Homosexual acts are wrong, but experiencing a disordered desire is not. (Catechism, 2357-2359)

As a Catholic, I must love my neighbor: no exceptions.

Unjust discrimination is not "love:"
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."
(Catechism, 2357)

Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church — Familiar Beliefs

News media coverage of the Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church often focused on their "God hates fags" belief. There's more to their gospel of hate, though.

When I visited their website a few years back, I found an all-too-familiar attitude toward Catholicism:
"...We will say every time we come to a catholic church (aka whore house) we will remind you that Priests Rape Children...."
("Westboro Baptist Church Picket Schedule,", (from Google cache November 8, 2010))
Some of my take on the "pedophile priest" story and America's cultural baggage:

(From Thomas Nast, via Wikimedia Commons, used without permission.)

"Bad Seed?"

My native culture encourages the belief that "bad seed" exist: people who are born evil. There's a (very) little truth to it.

We live with the consequences of our first parents' disobedience, and have "an inclination toward evil and death."

That's why we baptize infants, and celebrate Easter. We live in a fallen world, there is hope, and that's yet another topic. Topics. (Catechism, 402-412, 638-655)

Sin is very real. Its roots are beyond this world, we are all affected. But each of us is created "in the image of God," a good creature who is free to reason: and choose good or evil. (Catechism, 355-368, 385, 387, 391-395, 1730-1738)

Some of us make appallingly bad choices: but although I may identify what a person does as a "grave offense," I must leave judgment of the person who commits the act to God. (Catechism, 1861)

Presenting Christianity as a seething cauldron of hatred is far from a good deed.

However, I am not going to pronounce judgment on Fred Phelps, or those who follow him. I've got enough on my spiritual rap sheet already, without adding violations of Matthew 7:1.

Besides, there's Luke 18:10-14. The man who "prayed to himself" isn't a good role model.

Now that I'm in the last half of my life, the endgame is more obviously important. My intent and goal is to die "... in God's grace and friendship ... perfectly purified...." (Matthew 7:5, Romans 2:1-11, Hebrews 9:27, Catechism, 1021-1022, 1023, 1749-1756, 1777-1782, 18612283)

With my backlog of shortcomings, that goal seems optimistic, at best.

I will be pleasantly surprised — and astonished — if I don't do time in Purgatory.

And that's yet again another topic. (Catechism, 1030-1032)

Related posts:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Westboro church founder Fred Phelps dies" Daniel Burke, CNN (March 21, 2014)

"Fred Phelps -- the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals -- has died, the church said Thursday.

"The 84-year-old died of natural causes at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to church spokesman Steve Drain.

"Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955 and molded it in his fire-and-brimstone image. Many members of the small congregation are related to Phelps through blood or marriage....

"...According to Westboro, the church has picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals for slain U.S. soldiers. Typically, a dozen or so church members -- including small children -- will brandish signs that say 'God Hates Fags' and 'Thank God for Dead Soldiers.'

"Phelps was often called 'the most hated man in America,' a label he seemed to relish...."

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