Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

As I write this, Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro “Baptist” Church (and I put the word Baptist in quotes, because I’m not sure that any of the many varieties of Baptists really want him) is near death. And as I write this I think about how many people can’t wait for this world to be rid of such a spreader of hate; how many people would like to gather to protest at his funeral, just as he led his group to protest at the funerals of others; and how many people would just love to form a giant conga line on his grave.

But there is a better way. A much better way; and one that I've spoken about before.

Growing up in North Jersey, we weren't far from New York City, and this meant that we could head in to Manhattan to see Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. In fact, my parents were regular theater-goers, and often brought home copies of the Playbill for the shows they had seen. But my sister and I didn't get to see a Broadway show until 1970, when they took us to see the show Purlie.

The show opens with a funeral in a black Baptist church. Now as if that weren't strange enough, it's a funeral for the most hated man in the county; Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, who ran the plantation that the sharecroppers worked on, and despite the fact that emancipation had occurred 100 years earlier, still kept the workers in virtual slavery by the way he ran the "company store." Ol' Cap'n had done the black community a great favor by "dropping dead standing up."

But wait, there's more. This funeral was not a celebration like you would see in the Wizard of Oz, celebrating and gloating that the witch was dead. Quite the opposite, as much as every person in that church hated Ol' Cap'n's guts, the preacher talked about asking God to do the seemingly impossible, by redeeming him, and the opening number was a rousing gospel number titled Walk Him Up the Stairs. Yes, as sure as they were that Cotchipee would be frying in Hell "like a fresh-caught, fat-whiskered catfish in the skillet of the devil," the preacher goes on to say "that it would not be Christian for us to not pray even for what we know is impossible...his redemption."

And so as I think of the death of Fred Phelps, I think of one thing…wouldn’t it be wonderful if a throng of people showed up at his funeral, not to protest, not to do the conga on his grave, but to do the one thing that he and his followers wouldn’t be able to understand us doing…singing him into Heaven. If you've watched the video, then you know that Walk Him Up the Stairs is a little too complicated to work up on such short notice, but I have in my mind an image of a 10,000 voice chorus made up of members of the LGBT community and families of soldiers whose funerals he led protests, at flocking to his funeral to sing as one the Peter Lutkin arrangement of The Lord Bless You and Keep You, and then quietly walking away, with all the respect that he didn’t give others. And I have in my mind an image of his family members, who have every reason to expect a rowdy, cheering crowd at his funeral, going “WTF?” as they see the exact opposite happening. As they see the very people they targeted acting more Christlike to them than they had acted, supposedly as members of "the church." It would be a very Romans 12:20 moment.

There’s also another image I have…and that’s of Fred Phelps being at the gates of Heaven, and being told that while he was totally wrong about the “God hates f*gs” thing, God also doesn’t hate idiots; and since everyone needs to be forgiven, he gets to come inside too…and is immediately introduced to the millions of LGBT people that God indeed doesn’t hate.

So…is anyone up for a trip to his funeral?

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