I admit it. I want Westboro Baptist Church to protest my funeral. I have no plans to die anytime soon and I'm not inviting anyone to make my dream a reality just yet. When that day does arrive, however, I want Westboro near the closest news camera.
There are at least two benefits to having Westboro protest my funeral. First, given the amount of media coverage they get, their opposition will be my press release, announcing to everyone that I am opposed to every scribbled line of hate on their signs.
Their raised fists would be one last salute to (what I hope will be) my good life. Better than chiseling "Loving husband. Professor. Hated by Westboro Baptist Church" on my tombstone, it will be memorialized in every Google search related to Westboro for years to come. While it may not be as good as being known as the sworn enemy of Hitler or Osama bin Laden, I'll take it.
Westboro Baptist Church has had the public's attention for over a decade and they do not appear to be ending their protests any time soon; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the group's funeral protests this year by calling it free speech.
It was the Matthew Shepard case that made the hate group and their minister, Fred Phelps, famous. In 1998, Shepard was beaten to death for being gay and Westboro protested his funeral in apparent approval of his death. To this day they still have a clock on their website indicating how many days Shepard has been punished in hell. Since then, the group has protested everyone from American soldiers who died in battle to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The recent threat of protesting Betty Ford's funeral is all they needed to get attention. Sad events, such as the Teutenberg family funeral -- where an entire family was lost in a plane crash -- are the vehicles for their cold opportunism. While their message is primarily "God hates," one gets the impression that their ultimate delight is not really found in this creed, but in the feeding of their collective narcissism.
With all this in mind, who would not want to be on their list?
The second benefit to protesting my funeral is that I get to add to the critical mass of protests that may be required for ending their newsworthiness and starving their narcissism. According to their website, they've protested over 46,000 times. I am not sure what that magic number will be, but I want in on it.
I can imagine that great day when Westboro heads out to protest and Americans shrug their shoulders. If a protest of my funeral takes them one step closer to future obscurity and irrelevance, then do your worst. At the very least, protesting my funeral would be one step away from turning on the "closed" sign in front of their church, or as they say in Hollywood, the Fred Phelps Show would be "jumping the shark."
Of course, there is a downside to losing Westboro Baptist Church's protests; we might miss watching the creative counter-protests. A personal favorite of mine is that of last year's Comic-Con. The creativity award went to the nerdy opponents, dressed as superheroes and favorite TV cartoon characters offering satirically absurd signs like, "Kill all Humans" (Futurama) and "God Hates Jedi."
Another fantastic show of opposition was this last June, when three members of Westboro protested a military funeral in Nashville, Tennessee only to be greeted by 2,000 counter-protesters. Within just a few minutes the group and their signs saying "Thank God for dead soldiers" retreated.
Losing these counter-protests, however, is worth the price and it is not as if the news will be without other oddities. (Word has it that the former Klu Klux Klan leader, David Duke, is considering running for President in 2012. That has news gold written all over it.)
In the meantime, every protest by Westboro may be a lesson in hate, but it is also an opportunity. It is a moment for people of differing backgrounds and opinions to come together and say something positive. Don't be fooled, the only message Westboro has is that of hate and the victims of their protests are their pulpit for delivering that sermon.
Like Tennessee, neighbors and sensible people can stand up peacefully for the victim in a show of solidarity. And for the Teutenberg funeral, radio station 97X was able to negotiate some peace for the family by offering Phelps Jr. an hour of radio time if they left the mourners alone. (I'm sure someone at the station felt they had to take a long shower afterwards.) And just this week, on the first day of legalized gay marriage in New York, the Westboro group of four or five protestors, bounded on all sides by a fence, were far from stealing the show.
Please Westboro Baptist Church, please protest my funeral. You may discover that all you are doing is making this country stronger.
Follow Brandon G. Withrow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwithrow