Tonawanda News

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March 21, 2014

LEFFLER: Take no joy in Fred Phelps passing.

Tonawanda News — I’ve written about schadenfreude before. It is the joy one takes in the misery of others. We all do it from time to time. But I take no joy in death. Ever.

Fred Phelps died Thursday. You may not have recognized the name before watching the world news last night but you no doubt knew who he was and what he did. Or at least most of it.

Phelps was famous for his church’s work in “opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth,” according to the Westboro Baptist Church’s own Web site. He was proud of his work in picketing funerals for military men and women and Hollywood stars, saying their deaths were proof positive that God is mad at America over our acceptance of homosexuals.

You’ve likely seen the group’s signs in chain emails or on Facebook posts: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 9/11” and the ever popular “God Hates Fags.”

Fred Phelps was a confused man. From my point of view, he had a horrible misunderstanding of Christianity. It wasn’t just Fred, either. He got his son Fred Phelps Jr. involved in the anti-gay movement and even roped his daughter into it. I hope you got the pun, as her name is Shirley Phelps-Roper.

I had the — let’s go with privilege — of talking one-on-one with Shirley on a couple of occasions, first in 2007 following the death of Heath Ledger. The Westboro church protested his funeral. I interviewed her again in 2008.

Her definition of Christianity, much like her father’s, is far askew from what I learned in church. Hers is a vengeful god, as though the New Testament had never been written. As though Jesus was never born.

Yes, I realize I didn’t capitalize “God” in the preceding paragraph. It’s how strongly I believe that the Westboro types believe in a completely different religion — and therefore a different god — than I do.

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