Forgiving Fred Phelps

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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75 Responses

  1. dragonfrog says:

    Forgiveness is well and good, but if I locate any common ground beyond the most universal facts of human life between myself and the Westboro crew, I will treat it as a warning sign that something may be amiss in my own life.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    There’s been a lot written about Phelps that, to my mind, missed the point. While it’s true that his hatred was for gays in particular, and that he was singularly ineffective in fighting equal rights for them, his victims, those whose loved ones’ funerals were desecrated, suffered genuine and irreparable harm. And while he was alive, his potential victims included all of us. I’m honestly not sure what it would mean to forgive him, but the fact remains: you, along with the rest of the world, are better off now that he’s dead.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    Not being Christian, I feel no religious obligation to forgive. For me, forgiveness must be evaluated on its own merit. And part of that merit involves whether that forgiveness is going to do anybody any good. It isn’t going to do a thing for Phelps himself.

    Truth is, I feel a little bit of pity for Phelps. At the very end, he seemed to reach some degree of realization that the institution he founded and led was based on nothing but seething hate, and called on parishioners of the church to be nice to one another. In exchange for this seemingly pedestrian suggestion, he was excommunicated.

    If someone can point me to an indication that Phelps realized the pain his organization caused to so many people who were not within its membership ranks — not just gay people and their families, but also the families of the fallen veterans whose funerals they protested, decent Christians whose reputations were soiled by the WBC’s antics taken in the name of Jesus, and so on — then I think a degree of forgiveness might be in order as a signal to his survivors in Westboro Baptist Church that they are already a long way down a very bad path, and ought to reform their behavior.

    As for Christians who contemplate, and perhaps find, forgiveness for people like this, they have my admiration. Dispensing forgiveness to those whose conduct is abhorrent is a difficult task indeed.Report

  4. Stillwater says:

    In forgiving them and locating common ground with them

    The presumption that I am in a position to forgive Fred Phelps for anything strikes me as pretty arrogant, it seems to me. And what is there to forgive, anyway? He chose to live his life as he saw fit, without repentence or remorse for the harms he caused others. So the idea that I should overlook that and adopt a view which judges him favorably despite all the evidence seems to me really problematic on a bunch of levels. Had he expressed a sincere apology with his last breath forgiveness might make some sense. Without it, not so much.

    What I can do, however, is realize that the emotional revulsion I feel for the man is a property of me, and not him, and liberate myself from that vexing trap. And if that’s what we mean by forgiveness, then it has nothing to do with the other person, and is all about me.Report

    • Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

      What I can do, however, is realize that the emotional revulsion I feel for the man is a property of me, and not him, and liberate myself from that vexing trap.

      As I understand it, that’s the essence of Christian forgiveness. It is not about doing something for the person you forgive, but about ridding oneself of the negativity that comes from not forgiving someone for a wrong they’ve done (to you or to someone else).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Hmmm. I think that’s one way to interpret Christian forgiveness, but not the standard way. Christian forgiveness is about attributing something (grace?) to another persona and revising judgments about them. One benefit of that may be a release from emotional attachments, but it’s not the purpose of it. As Elizabeth expresses in the quoted paragraph, forgiveness is other-, not self-, directed. Which is ridiculous.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Well, it’s not ridiculous full stop, of course, just in this context.Report

      • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Chris says:

        I’d say that’s one aspect of Christian forgiveness, but not the whole of it.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Well, I don’t mean to imply that forgiveness isn’t directed towards someone. I know some of the translations of Luke 6:37 use “release” instead of “forgive,” but either way, it is “release/forgive and you will be forgiven/released.” Whatever you are holding in your heart and mind that needs to be released or forgiven is seen as a barrier between you and God, and that’s the primary reason for getting rid of it through forgiveness. I don’t think that’s a non-standard interpretation, but it may not be a common lay interpretation these days. I wouldn’t know, but:

        “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”Report

      • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, I like that phrasing, Chris.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:


        I don’t think we’re disagreeing here. Certainly we’re not disagreeing about the possibility of interpreting scripture that way. As you know (I think, but maybe not), that’s my preferred way to interpret it (as my first comment ought to have made clear) and other passages from the New Testament. But others, as evidence reveals, don’t interpret it the way I do.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Still, oh, right. I was mostly clarifying what I meant. And I can see by the talk of “common ground” in the quoted passage that not everyone interprets it that way. I don’t need to find common ground with someone to get rid of whatever grudge I hold. I suppose it might facilitate it, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be necessary. As Pinky says below, we’re all humans, and that’s enough for me.

        Of course, I’m a non-Christian, and I fail at forgiving people all the time, but I think it’s an important thing, even for the godless, because when you release someone else from a grudge, you release yourself from it as well.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Chris says:

        Chris, your earlier comment is what motivated me to make the distinction between forgiving for oneself and forgiving for the other. I agree that the Gospels want us to unburden ourselves, and say that we are judged to the extent that we judge others, but it can’t be simply a fear-based or selfish act. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but only the beginning. We can start by forgiving others because it’s good for ourselves, but that’s only the beginning. Just like we can start to love because we enjoy it, but that’s a form of self-serving love. The fullness comes from loving, from forgiving, the other person for their sake.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        FWIW: you can get the kindle Brothers K (Garnett translation!) for 99 cent!Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Chris says:

        Under Judaism, forgiveness is something that you seek rather than are given. It requires action rather than passivity. If a person wants to be forgiven for his or her transgressions than they have to earn it.Report

    • “So the idea that I should overlook that and adopt a view which judges him favorably despite all the evidence seems to me really problematic on a bunch of levels.”

      The article clearly explains that forgiveness does not require whitewashing-exactly the opposite, in fact.

      Also, I’m pretty sure that the point of forgiveness isn’t judgement, favourable or not.Report

    • James K in reply to Stillwater says:

      I agree. I think certain schools of Christianity place too much emphasis on forgiveness. By suggesting that it is right to forgive those who wrong you can imply that you have an obligation to those who wrong you, rather than the reverse.

      For me, someone has to earn forgiveness. At minimum, they have to show some sign of being sorry for what they did and they should normally need to actually do something tangible to try and make up for what they did.

      Phelps did none of that, to forgive him is to send the wrong message. You don’t get to run around screwing with people and expect them to just forgive you for it.Report

  5. veronica dire says:

    You know, personally I have experienced zero trauma from Phelps. Part of the reason for this is simple, when he first began his hate campaign, I was in my pre-trans-awareness phase. So I had no idea that his hate actually targeted me. Thus he was, to me, a joke.

    (Note, he was doing his “god hates fags” stuff long before his attacks on veterans.)

    Although I understand how his antics could be traumatic to the families of the dead, I did not personally experience that. (I have lost friends to AIDS, but never attended any of their funerals. Nor have I attended the funeral of a veteran.)

    So, in the end, to me he was a big, pathetic joke and no kind of boogeyman.

    Forgive him? Phht! Ain’t worth the time.Report

  6. Fnord says:

    Forgiveness, presumably, should also originate from those who were wronged.Report

  7. Damon says:

    Forgiveness requires that the offender, at a minimum, sincerely apologize to the party he offended. Not being the offended party, I have nothing to forgive. Since Fred Phelps is dead, he cannot apologize anymore, so no forgiveness can be given, unless he made some death bed global apology.Report

    • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Damon says:

      I certainly don’t agree that forgiveness can only be offered when someone apologizes. That may be your approach, but you (literally) can’t force that approach on the rest of us.Report

      • Damon in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        @Jonathan McLeod
        You are free to do as you wish. I will not, however, forgive anyone for transgressions against me without an apology and expression of remorse. Untill then, I’ll have nothing to do with them.Report

  8. zic says:

    Forgiveness entails a change of feelings or attitude toward an offense. So if I forgive Phelps, I’m somehow supposed to have a different attitude about him; instead of a hateful bigot, he transforms into deluded old man, I suppose? Get off my lawn.

    Forgiveness does not include condoning the action that is supposed to be forgiven. So I can forgive Phelps for harm to gays and the families of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, but still recognize that Phelps was, in fact, a hate-filled bigot. But do you really think this is how a massive and public forgiving will go down?

    There’s this whole PR effort to forgive the Christian for being a bigot; to play tender with Christian privilege, right now. Poor things, being asked to pay for contraceptives and bake cakes for gay weddings. It’s not like they’re about to be fed to the lions or lose their church’s tax-exempt status.

    It’s rather disgusting, to be honest. Persecution is a very real thing; and groups that have been persecuted know its yoke.Report

    • Kim in reply to zic says:

      btw… dkos has been doing a great series:
      (this is the latest installment).
      Figured you’d be interested.Report

      • zic in reply to Kim says:

        Thank you, Kim. That’s an amazing series.

        Too often, feminism seems to be denied by some tone that women’s issues are settled because, for the most part, women are more equal western countries. We’re like this small sliver of women the world over. This series is a wealth of resources to that point, and I’m grateful you pointed it out to me.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

      Yes. There’s a bit of apologetics going on, I think. Love the sinner, hate the sin and all that. Phelps wasn’t despicable or vile – he loved his kids and enjoyed a mochalatte just like the rest of us – he was just a lost soul. None of that has anything to do with forgiveness, it seems to me.

      By one conception, the act of forgiveness is the acceptance of sincere contrition. Phelps never did that. So there’s nothing to forgive him for.Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        Stillwater, I agree.

        Perhaps I was unclear, but I don’t just mean Phelps. There’s this whole ‘treat the Christians with kid gloves’ meme going down now.

        It’s making me feel like ‘they’ are a hornet’s nest.Report

      • @stillwater
        “By one conception, the act of forgiveness is the acceptance of sincere contrition. Phelps never did that. So there’s nothing to forgive him for.”

        Sure, and for anyone who adheres only to that conception, your final sentence stands. As you might guess, I don’t adhere to that conception of forgiveness.

        It seems to me that Elizabeth’s post isn’t asking for the kid glove treatment. I’m not totally sure where your comments are coming from. They’re not originating from either what I wrote or what Elizabeth wrote. That’s not to say that they’re invalid, just that they miss the mark of the OP.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:


        The only other conception of forgiveness I’m aware of is where the act is entirely internal. Elizabeth’s post, however, appears to be directed outwardly, where forgiveness is an externally directed act (or thought, whatever) while being conceptually divorced from an expression of contrition by the forgivee. If that’s the case, what exactly are we forgiving Phelps for? And following from that: does framing the issue this way reveal a question-begging level of moral superiority?Report

      • @stillwater
        I think we know what people would be forgiving Phelps for. Elizabeth laid out the case that Phelps hurt the Christian community. This was not his primary victim, but the community was harmed, in a way.

        I think people can forgive other people even if that other person hasn’t expressed contrition. Yes, there’s an internal dynamic to that, but it is still something directed to someone else.

        Is there an aspect of moral superiority? Maybe, sometimes. I think it probably depends on context. I also think such a question is a good one to ask of oneself, lest one falls into just such a trap. I know that’s not a great answer, but it’s the best I can do.Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        Forgiveness begins not with a dismissal of guilt — that is, not with attempts to diminish or deny the harm that was done — but with an acknowledgement of it. You can’t forgive the innocent, after all, only the guilty. In that sense the first step is already completed, as it seems universally agreed upon that the WBC is responsible for a variety of harms. But to proceed from there is not to deny that harm was done, it’s instead to look for an avenue to restoring the rapport or relationship that was damaged by the harm. In the case of Christians looking to restore the WBC to fellowship with the totality of the Christian community, restoring that relationship begins with sorting out the pieces of their theology and practice that are insightful from the pieces that are misled and injurious. Part and parcel with recognizing that the WBC are people who have something to contribute even despite their many faults comes the recognition that they are, first of all, people.

        (italics mine)

        That’s Stoker’s case; restoring WBC to grace within the Christian community. She never gets to the people actually harmed by WBC.

        I don’t mean to dismiss what Stoker says here; I mean to put it in a greater context that I see happening right now: part and parcel of a greater discussion about limitations of Christians rights to practice their religion, a developing debate about speaking of Christians with tolerance and love, even when they don’t practice tolerance and love. It’s reflected in the AZ law that (thankfully) Brewer didn’t sign; in this post about forgiveness for the benefit of Christians, not the direct victims of WBC’s hatred, with Sully’s posts on tolerance, with the Hobby Lobby case being heard by the Supreme Court. There’s a widespread effort underway to make sure we handle speaking out about Christian bigotry with kid gloves, and it bears on this conversation.Report

      • @zic
        I think Elizabeth is trying to treat people with tolerance and love, even when she’s talking about other Christians who did not treat people with tolerance love.

        I also think she is particularly writing to the Christian community, which does limit the scope of her writing, but doesn’t prohibit it from being useful to others.Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        Jonathan, her concern is definitely for the Christian community. She wants them to embrace WBC, to study how they mucked their symbology up so badly that they garnered this horrid reputation. A reputation that slimed the greater group of Christians.

        I can forgive her for focusing on how to embrace the sinners of WBC instead of their actual sin — treating the families of veterans and homosexuals as less than human. I see her arguing to study mixing the symbols and how they were misused, but I don’t see her call for tolerance for my brother’s marriage or my friend’s gender dysphoria. A local family had a gang of bikers at his funeral because WBC threatened to picket it (they didn’t show). They’re burying their 20 year old kid, dead from an IED in Iraq, and have this stress on top of their grief, bad enough, that the local version of Hell’s Angels turns out to protect them. Who’s godly here?Report

      • @zic
        “I can forgive her for focusing on how to embrace the sinners of WBC…”
        Well that’s a start!

        “I don’t see her call for tolerance for my brother’s marriage or my friend’s gender dysphoria.”
        I certainly don’t claim to know her stance on those issues.

        “They’re burying their 20 year old kid, dead from an IED in Iraq, and have this stress on top of their grief, bad enough, that the local version of Hell’s Angels turns out to protect them. Who’s godly here?”
        In such a situation, it has always seemed to me that the Hell’s Angels are certainly doing God’s work.Report

      • zic in reply to veronica dire says:

        Thank you. That’s quite a list of preserved privilege, right down to the exemption from reporting political lobbyist expenditures.

        I find fault with the first; government has no right to abridge religion; but religion has great right to abridge government, at least in this way, even when that tramples the beliefs of others.Report

  9. Jaybird says:

    If I ever find myself there, I will be happy to make sure the flowers on his grave get sufficient moisture.Report

  10. Francis says:

    I don’t much comment on posts about Christianity. I’ve long since left the faith for a kind of quiet atheism. But saying “I forgive you” out loud is just about as obnoxious as “You should be thankful”. In both cases my answer is, pretty much, go fish yourself. In both cases the speaker is asserting moral superiority over the listener. And while it’s my own personal view that most Christians are, actually, better people than the members of the WBC, it’s also my personal view that most of us aren’t actually so moral as to be in a position to give forgiveness or demand gratitude.

    Figuring out when to tolerate intolerance rapidly becomes impossible for me, except on an ad hoc basis. Nazis can march in Skokie and gays can get married, but Hobby Lobby has to provide contraception? Private universities can have speech codes but bakers and photographers have to provide their commercial services to events that they find personally repugnant? Yes, I think that mainstream liberals are mostly right on all these issues, but somewhere along the way I have to accept that reasonable people can disagree. (Personally, I think speech codes suck and I’d willing to create an artistic expression exemption to public accommodation rules, but that’s just me.)

    So please feel free to try to forgive the WBC. But also keep in mind that by expressing your act of forgiveness out loud, you are also saying a lot about your own view of your own position in society.Report

    • Personally, I thought Elizabeth’s piece was good fodder for introspection. Granted, I can see how it seems odd to make public declarations about introspection, but that’s kind of what we do around here. We talk, we respond, we talk some more.

      Second, I also thought that Elizabeth was using the Phelps death to write about forgiveness both in the specific case and in general. The general lessons seem pretty worthwhile to me, and aren’t some form of self-aggrandizement. In fact, I found her writing to be infused with humility.

      Finally, I’m not sure why you bring up tolerating intolerance. Is anyone suggesting that? I’m not, nor was Elizabeth (from what I could tell). Maybe I misread her, or maybe I was bringing in the fact that most of her writing doesn’t tolerate intolerance… though maybe I’m misreading you and we’re headed down a wormhole of competing definitions.Report

  11. Brandon Berg says:

    Does it matter?Report

  12. Pinky says:

    I’m not sure I see the need for common ground in order to forgive. I may be able to understand him better because I can find things we had in common, but is that necessary for forgiveness? Or, rather, do I need anything besides my identity as a fellow human and a fellow sinner in order to forgive him? God forgives us without being a sinner, and his forgiveness isn’t bound (as far as I can think of) to his incarnation. He just forgives. G.K. Chesterton said that to love is to love the unlovable; otherwise there is no virtue in it. Isn’t the same thing true of forgiveness?

    We don’t forgive simply because it’s good for us. That’s fear-based: I don’t want to carry around the baggage of hating, and it’s not good for me. I think that forgiveness finds it truest expression when it’s based in love. I love Phelps, and even if it were my place to demand punishment for him, I wouldn’t.

    I’m not sure about this, though.Report

  13. DRS says:

    It costs us nothing to forgive people at a great remove who have done nothing directly to us. If there’s someone on this thread whose family sustained a Phelps invasion at a family funeral, then that person might have something to forgive. But otherwise it’s a form of narcissism that doesn’t do much for us in anyway. Think of the people who’ve done you wrong that you have yet to forgive: that will require personal effort to remember, confront, forget, that warrants the name of forgiveness.Report

  14. Kim says:

    How is forgiving the unrepentant a good thing?Report

  15. Shazbot3 says:

    In that piece in The Week, the always eloquent Elizabeth writes,

    1. Another thing you pick up on pretty quickly is that the people of the Westboro Baptist Church are disarmingly nice.

    2. The aspects of their theology that are most dismissive of God’s love and mercy — the infamous “God hates fags” position, for example, which is as obtuse as it is reductive and misleading — are cautionary tales about sloppy reading and motivated hermeneutics.”

    3. Part and parcel with recognizing that the WBC are people who have something to contribute even despite their many faults comes the recognition that they are, first of all, people.

    My retort:

    1. Everyone is nice. Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, slave holders, Pol Pot, Torquemada (sp?), Genghis Kahn, Dave from work, etc. Everyone is especially nice when they are being interviewed by a writer who is cute and young of the same race and religion as them.

    General niceness upon meeting should not surprise you. Nor should it play into deep moral judgments about a person’s actions and their true human character.

    2. I would say theological inaccuracy is less of a problem in the WBC members than rank homophobia. People can be nice to your face and cruelly homophobic the next moment.

    3. This last claim gets at something deep that I have been struggling with for a while. Roderik (sp .) Chisholm writes about the difference between praising a person versus praising their character.Report

    • Kim in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      I find this whole thread to be mildly disgusting.

      You want someone to forgive? WBC is easy — very easy to forgive.
      Look, look deeper into the internet, and you can find people whose
      assaults on others were both unprovoked and will go unpunished.
      Look, if you dare — you’ll never look the same at another human.

      ACKNOWLEDGE THE HUMANITY inherent in the torturer.
      After that, do you dare look in the mirror again?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kim says:

        Well, yes. Christian or no, we ought to acknowledge the humanity inherent in the torturer. And yes, we ought to confront the fact that each of us has the capability of cruelty and morally atrocious behavior within ourselves.

        To forgive the torturer? That’s a tall order, particularly for the victim. I admire Christians who can pull it off — I don’t know that I’d be capable of it. I still bear hard feelings from wrongs done to me years ago, despite the fact that they bring me no joy and despite the fact that the wrongdoers probably have at least some sort of a moral gloss on what they did. I can say that the wrongs done me in the past really don’t matter all that much anymore, but I can’t say that I’ve forgiven.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        I’m actually not sure that we all have it in ourselves, the capacity to willfully and needlessly cause pain to someone else for our own enjoyment.
        Still, the torturer is a part of humanity — not some nameless evil, but one of us.

        I am much prouder of having forgotten than having forgiven. Forgiveness, for me, comes in understanding the morality of others’ actions, even if they were hurtful towards me (in so far as attempts to coerce behavior can be moral).Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kim says:

        Oh, I believe it is universal, @kim, this capability to inflict cruelty. What’s pernicious about that part of human nature is that the infliction of cruelty usually comes with its own moral gloss — the torturer believes she is doing something morally good even as she does it. Humans have a deep, deep well of that kind of moral negotiation, and as history has shown, this capability is scalable and results in horror.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kim says:

        I still bear hard feelings from wrongs done to me years ago, despite the fact that they bring me no joy and despite the fact that the wrongdoers probably have at least some sort of a moral gloss on what they did. I can say that the wrongs done me in the past really don’t matter all that much anymore, but I can’t say that I’ve forgiven.

        That’s probably true of me, too. And as for me, most of the wrongdoings done to me were really not that harmful by most standards. And yet I find it hard to forgive.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      “1. Everyone is nice.”

      I get the point you’re trying to make, but this statement is simply false.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      Dave from work

      Tall, handsome Dave, or chubby, funny Dave?Report

  16. Jaybird says:

    I’ve always found it somewhat (well… let’s say “relatively”) easy to forgive people who hurt me. It’s tougher for me to forgive people who hurt my friends.

    But it’s also possible to be coldly pragmatic about the whole thing. To what extent did Fred Phelps actively harm the whole “Protect Traditional Marriage” position? By being a fellow no side wanted in their bed, Phelps achieved the whole “being sooooo odious” thing to the point where he not only pushed people who were on the fence off of it, he moved the fence. People who wanted to “Protect Traditional Marriage” would inevitably be asked about Phelps and would inevitably have to give a short speech explaining how they aren’t followers of Phelps and how it’s offensive to suggest any overlap between opposition to SSM and affinity for the use of slurs (and so on and so forth).

    Hell, it seems that Phelps did a good job of harming not only the folks he directly slurred or the loved ones of the folks who were buried at the funerals he picketed, but the “Protect Traditional Marriage” folks, the Santorum types, and conservative Christianity in general. He might even have done damage to lukewarm moderate Christianity.

    He harmed people I care deeply about but he didn’t harm me. He did a good job of discrediting positions I opposed. He did milder harm to other members of my friends and family, if only by vague association. Now that he’s dead and unlikely to hurt my friends anymore, I don’t see any reason to ever think about him again… let alone to incorporate him into some weird self-help exercise.Report

  17. Tod Kelly says:

    The question of whether or not to forgive him is an odd one; maybe this is because I am not a Christian.

    He is dead and (I assume) not coming back, and I’m not aware that he asked to be forgiven before his demise. I assume that he he went to his grave regretting none of the things he did that would have required absolution. What, then, does my forgiveness do exactly?

    I mean, I can let go of hate, and I can gladly forget him. I can work harder to make a landscape where future Fred Phelps are less likely, or one where a future Fred Phelps isn’t propelled farther than he should be by a media that salivates over every transgression so that it can make ratings on slow news days. I can certainly forgive those he has left behind in his church, should they see the light and wish to stop the pain they seem to delight in self-righteously inflicting upon others.

    But forgive Fred Phelps? I don’t understand what that means at this point, any more than I would understand “forgiving” Hitler or the men who lobbied so hard for slavery 200 years ago. They’re all dead, and if we could bring them back to life they’d be happy to go on doing what they had been doing with they weren’t six feet under.

    Letting go of hate, reaching out to others, and moving on is enough for me.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      This is the long-form version off my “Does it matter?” comment. This whole thing seems to me to be a sort of theatrical display with no practical consequences. If you’re spending a lot of time obsessing over your hatred for Phelps, you should probably find a better use for your time. But to “forgive” him? That just seems like another way to waste time thinking about him.

      I also agree with others that it’s presumptuous to talk publicly about forgiving Phelps if he hasn’t actually hurt you personally. It’s a low-cost way to feel good about yourself, and may be offensive to his actual victims.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Myself, I don’t buy into the whole pop-psych ideas behind this, as if my contempt for Phelps (and his ilk) is a weight I carry, that my mental states are hurting me. They are not. My contempt for such people is simple, direct, and quite empowering. No reason to get rid of that. I’d rather find ways to get rid of them.Report

      • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Laughter is the best form of mockery.
        Do look up the vid of Anon hacking the WBC live on air. it’s hilarious.Report

  18. @jonathan-mcleod

    I’ve struggled with this issue a bit. Like several above, I find it almost inconsiderate for me to say that I “forgive” Phelps because I wasn’t a person directly affected by what he did. It’s easy and cheap for me to say “I forgive Phelps.” It’s much harder–as some others have said–for me to forgive petty wrongs or wrongs done to friends of mine.

    I didn’t comment any of this on Russell’s post because I felt that thread was not the right place to air my views. But I did write one at my own blog if anyone is interested:

    • I get that. I can’t say that I forgive Phelps, because I’m not sure what that would mean coming from me. I try to hold no hate or animus toward the man or WBC. I do think that the discussion about forgiving is a worthwhile one, and I think he’s probably a good hard case to use as a jumping off point.Report

  19. Murali says:

    No forgiveness on this side, he’s dead to me.Report

  20. *sigh*

    1) I make no apologies for being glad that Phelps is no longer on this earth. If that means I do not “forgive” him properly, then I plainly fall short of the perfect expectations of those whose religious leanings I ostensibly share. Oh, well.

    2) I am content to forget he ever existed. I cannot be bothered to hold a grudge against him, because I do not love him enough to do so. The sooner I no longer hear his name again, the better. Perhaps one can consider that “forgiveness”?

    3) I was harmed by him in no meaningful way. Thus my “forgiveness” is cheaply paid. If I were a family member whose mourning a loved one was marred by his poison? I would sell that forgiveness dear and I would remark the pride of those who presumed to tell me I ought to do otherwise.

    4) I was deeply harmed by people marginally more polite in their religious-based hatred of gays. I have written about it. I do remark the pride that, to my mind, informs any effort to hasten me toward “forgiveness” for those hurts. Something something specks and planks.

    5) You know what would be sufficient for me to forgive? In a heartbeat? Without hesitation and with joy at the reconciliation? Two words. Two simple words I would rejoice to hear — “I’m sorry.”Report

    • Zane in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      I hadn’t read your linked essay back when you posted it, Russell. I’m sorry I missed it back then, but I’m glad I got to read it now. It really communicates exactly how I feel about all these sorts of monsters.

      I was not directly or even identifiably indirectly harmed by Fred Phelps. I’m not a Christian, I have no onus on me to forgive him. The harm he did was to others–especially his family. It’s up to them whether to forgive him. Nathan Phelps, at least, seems to be in a good place about this. But I certainly can’t recommend or expect that those harmed by Fred Phelps forgive him.

      I said in the other thread that hearing about Phelps’ death left me sad. And it does. He left chaos and pain in his wake and saw no success in making the world into what his god wanted. His potential was wasted and his family harmed. And I can afford to feel sad at his death because he had no successes in the larger world.

      With more mainstream homophobes, I’m with Russell. I feel contempt and fury at the religious right. I can’t be civil with them. They are working to bring about the conditions of misery, poverty, harassment, and suicide of the most vulnerable of LGBT people. (I almost said “…in the USA”, but it’s clear they’ve developed a global reach.) They do it indirectly by trying to shape policy that makes the lives of LGBT folks harder. And they do it directly by spreading their messages to those poor souls inhabiting every single one of their congregations. They choose to act in ways that are insidious, deceptive, hateful, willfully blind, and ultimately destructive. I do not forgive them. Their acts are not forgivable.Report