You probably woke up to the coffee, scrambled eggs and the numerous blog posts claiming Fred Phelps (founder of the Westboro Baptist Church) is "near death."
We also learned from his son, Nate Phelps, that the elder Phelps was "ex-communicated" from his own church in September of 2013. (No further explanation as to how or why, but, damn... that's harsh... getting thrown out of the church YOU started!)
Fred Phelps started the church in 1955, but didn't really come into his infamy until the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. His large family protested the funeral with horrible signs such as "Matthew In Hell" and everybody's favorite, "God Hates Fags."
These protests of course would become legendary all over the country. Military funerals. School shootings. Gay funerals. I love a good funeral as much as the next guy, but these people made it vacation destinations.
Five years ago, I produced THE LARAMIE PROJECT: 10 YEARS LATER with an all-star cast at Hollywood United Methodist Church. Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Michael Weatherly, Julie Benz, James Cromwell, Barrett Foa, Helen Shaver, and others.
We began receiving tweets and mail from Westboro with hate and perceived threats ("perceived" by the LAPD). They claimed they were going to come and protest the show and we created a series of angel wings to block them from the church.
We bought sandwiches, cookies and water to feed them.
And they never showed.
Two years ago, my short film GROOM'S CAKE played at the Kansas City Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Being a short drive from Topeka and the Westboro compound, I decided I needed to pay a visit. I went up. Knocked on the door and everything.
I even made a trip and movie out of it:
No one was home. (Thank God... cause I was really nervous someone WOULD be and well... I wasn't exactly dressed for Bible study...)
But I made my little sign. I stood outside Westboro's compound and in that moment, I stood up for ME. And it felt amazing.
The nasty tweets continued over the years and they were coming directly from Megan Phelps, Phelps granddaughter. The hateful tweets continued between myself and Megan for three years until something strange happened: she left the church.
I wrote an OPEN LETTER TO MEGAN PHELPS and she responded. We exchanged several emails and she even came to a service at Hollywood United Methodist Church with her sister, Grace.
It's not appropriate for me to share our conversations, because Megan and her sister are on their journey now and learning about life outside Westboro, but I can assure you, they are not "those people" any longer.
Proof? They came as my dates to the world premiere of BIRTHDAY CAKE in Kansas City last year and loved the film. Yes, the little film about a gay couple raising a child.
If that doesn't prove people can change, nothing will ever prove that to you.
We are now friends.
A lot about people want to picket Fred Phelps funeral. And I think that's a huge mistake.
We are bigger than that, people. All of us. No matter what your sexuality, picketing the funeral of someone is wrong. That's putting horrible energy out into the world. Energy that could be better spent in reflection in what YOU can do to help change the minds of the ignorant.
I know a lot of people want him to die a slow and painful death for the hurt he has caused, but I choose to live in a world, and for my own sanity MUST choose to live in a world, where forgiveness is paramount. Forgiveness is free. Forgiveness is hard.
There is an individual that I work daily to forgive (an individual who refers to me as the "most negative person she has ever met..." and tells everyone I have rage issues and need therapy. Glass houses, baby... Glass houses...). I even forgave said individual and released all the anger in my heart because of a single act of kindness she did for someone close to me, and then 24 hours later, she did something completely new and even more off the wall to anger me all over again.
Forgiveness is a process. And you can't cure stupid.
I know we all believe differently. Some place faith in a higher power. Some place faith in science.
But I can not fight hate with hate.
If you choose to picket his funeral, I hope you do so out of a personal, visceral response from all of the work you have done for LGBT rights. I hope you are standing up for the unending fight for rights and equality. I hope you have stood by in silent protest opposite Westboro in wings made from bedsheets in the rain and cold and your need to protest Phelps' funeral comes from some fiery passion to see the man go into the ground.
If not, I hope you take time to reflect on what you can do to make our world a better place and I hope you use this opportunity to join an organization to fight FOR us all. Get mad. The world likes you when you're mad because you're passionate about something.
But hoping an old man dies painfully isn't going to help. And that karma, or whatever you want to call it, will come back on you. He's already been ex-communicated by his family and "church."
Also, we still don't know WHY he was thrown out of his own church.
WHY? That's the bigger question here. Why does someone get thrown out of their own church that's entire message is to preach HATE?
Truth takes time.