Often it is my second thought that is best, and that was true when it came to Fred Phelps.
When I saw on Facebook that Fred had died, my first thought was, "And who is going to picket his funeral?" Then my second thought was, "Wow, through his despicable acts of hate, he really did bring attention and compassion to the families of Ryan White, Matthew Shepard and many more."
It's like how, when people hear my name, their first thought is usually the image of me hitting my head on the diving board at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, but then they remember that I won! It's amazing how a visceral response can lock in information.
I had the interesting experience of seeing Fred attend many of my events through the years. The first was in 1995, when I spoke at a jam-packed, standing-room-only event in Lawrence, Kan., during my book tour for Breaking the Surface. Fred and his group were standing outside with signs saying, "Die, AIDS Faggot!" and, "God Hates Gays," with a picture of me with horns and "666" on my forehead.
In a Q-and-A at the end of the event, I was asked what I thought of the ignorance that was on display outside the building. I said, "You mean Fred?" A chuckle came from the crowd. I continued, "I feel I should hand him a teddy bear and tell him he needs lots of hugs, because anyone who spews that much hate can't like themselves very much."
I later learned that an LGBT student group subsequently sent Fred and his followers a bunch of teddy bears in my honor, telling them that they needed lots of hugs! How cool is that? You never know what people hear when you speak or what might resonate with then.
Sure, my knee-jerk reaction is to paint a sign saying, "My God doesn't hate; he embraces me and everyone!" Then I think about that for a moment. Shouldn't I rise above Fred's tactics and send him a prayer of peace? He must have suffered so much; hate is a heavy weight to bear.
Fred, may you find peace, and may I find peace in my heart to forgive.
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