A couple days ago, I saw in my twitter feed that Fred Phelps was on hospice. The reactions from my tweeps covered all the bases: joy, anger, apathy. People joked about picketing his funeral by finding a same gender person to kiss, showing up with angry signs, and some suggested showing up with love. I suspect that our responses to a man like Fred Phelps reveal a lot about our faith.
I suppose I fall in the apathy camp. To me, too many people gave the man too much attention. Even in angrily responding to him, people gave him a louder microphone and a bigger platform. He stood his ground and he stayed fully committed to theology and practices that caused a lot of hurt to a lot of people. I prefer to leave it to God to judge the man and his actions.
What I find interesting is that Fred Phelps’ death is dominating social media timelines that also are celebrating Fred Rogers’ birthday. Saying Mr. Rogers name to people elicits an equally strong emotional reaction from many people. People have been compelled to make up stories about Mr. Rogers having tattoos and chain smoking because they can’t seem to find other faults with him. He’s been lauded for taking time to greet strangers and being just as genuine off screen as he was on his tv program Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
The difference between the two men and where their faith led them is striking. One leaves a legacy of judgment and hate; the other leaves a legacy of acceptance and love. I know which one I’d rather spend a day with and which one I’d rather think about today.
I do wonder, though, if one Fred talked to the other Fred, what would that conversation be like? Would Mr. Rogers love Mr. Phelps? Would Mr. Phelps have found a reason to picket Mr. Rogers’ funeral?