It was a spectacle, at first, for me. I made a number of inappropriate but we're in the Lord's parking lot statements. Refused to hold a sign for a whole five minutes. I practically stood in the middle of the road to get a good look at the WBC group. I was fascinated by this group of people that preached hate. Well, the cop told me to get out of the road, I took out my cheap cell phone and started snapping some photos. They all came out blue.
|Opposite ends of the street!|
I took some pictures then picked up a sign to match my viewpoints.
|This is the sign I borrowed from a friend's son.|
|There goes, the police, like always.|
The Most Hated Family in America is a 2007 documentary about the family's life that attempts to portray the family members as sensible, normal, and even good natured people. I've actually never met any of the family members, so I can't say if they're sensible or not, but from the video I could deduct that they're convinced of their message. There is no wrong for them and they stick together. That was cool, I guess. Then I found the follow-up documentary.
America's Most Hated Family in Crisis is a 2011 follow-up documentary that speaks to a couple of ex-family members from the original documentary. Louis Theroux really hints that there is something sinister and unbelievably awful behind the whole family's existence. Something like, anger on the part of the family patriarch Fred Phelps. That got me thinking more and I ran a search for one of Fred's ex-children. You know, children he swears are dead because they left the family.
Nine seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, SVU, couldn't have prepared me for what I found. I'm not going to accuse Fred Phelps of being gay. I can't, haven't met the guy and my gaydar sucks. But, I am going to claim that he required a lot of Gender-Reinforcement. Maybe, he really needs to prove to himself that he's a man. Or that he's a straight man. Or that he's a man in the sense of the Bible. There's a short version and a long version of the Fred Phelps story that makes me think this way.
I stumbled upon the first version first. Mark Phelps (Fred's first son) left home as soon as he could. In the 19 years since he left home, he hadn't spoken to his father and answered the occasional question about his time in the Phelps home. In 1993, Mark wrote a letter describing his feelings of "gentleness" for his father. These couple of sentences from the letter reinforce my thinking that there's something seriously wrong with Fred Phelps:
Instead, my father's behavior characterizes, I believe, Hate, Outbursts of Wrath, Contention, Jealousy, Vengefulness, Misery, Harshness, and Selfish ambition. He mis-states the truth about his own behavior, about others, about the Bible, with apparent ease and regularity. He behaves with a viciousness the likes of which I have never seen. He accepts no genuine accountability in his life and is subject to no one. His lifestyle betrays the sacred trust of what a pastor, husband, father and grandfather should be. I suppose if a comparison were made between the life of Jesus Christ and my father, there would not be much to compare.Even then, Fred Phelps just seemed like an angry guy. I thought, there are angry people everywhere... right? Then I stumbled upon another statement. More graphic and saddening than any SVU episode. I found an account of Fred Phelps beating his sons to a bloody mess, and instantly my stomach clenched. Here's a sample of the pain the Phelps children endured:
The first blow stunned your whole body. By the third blow, your backside was so tender, even the lightest strike was agonizing, but he'd still hit you like he wanted to put it over the fence. By 20, though, you'd have grown numb with pain. That was when my father would quit and start on my brother. Later, when the feeling had returned and it hurt worse than before, he'd do it again. After 40 strokes, I was weak and nauseous and very pale. My body hurt terribly. Then it was Nate's turn. He got 40 each time. I staggered to the bathtub where my mom was wetting a towel to swab my face. Behind me, I could hear the mattock and my brother was choking and moaning. He was crying and he wouldn't stop.At that point, I couldn't be angry at the WBC. I felt sorry for them. No, not sorry, it's this particular feeling I get every time I hang out near a church, in a church, and most places of worship. That dirty, sinister, blood-filled feeling of everything shameful and regret. The Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church seem like a miserable line of victims. Yes, at first sight they appear like a strongly convinced family living the Good Word. But, that's now how it feels. It feels bad. Feels sad.