Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, is reportedly on his deathbed, leaving behind a legacy of hate, intolerance, and controversy.
The church is well-known for picketing or planning to protest the funerals of people like the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook school shooting, fallen soldiers, LGBT people and their allies, and many others.
However, other voices are calling for forgiveness and grace, including banished church member Lauren Drain, who hasn't seen her family members since she was thrown out of the WBC in 2008. She has since denounced all WBC beliefs. She wrote on Facebook:
If the rumors are true regarding Fred Phelps, & I have strong reason to believe that they are - this news to me is incredibly devastating. When I was back in the church 8 years ago, I witnessed various members get ex-communicated & watched in horror & fear as families were ripped apart at the seams.
There was one summer, that I can draw upon perfectly clear as to the nature of the harshness & severity of our beliefs. Our very own pastor, who supposedly was guided by God & helped guide our ministry, his own membership was being called into question by the remaining members (most of which were his own sons, daughters & progeny). This notion devastated me & I remember as a church we became obsessed with hiding it from the media. I couldn't realize why. To protect the reality that all humans, including a pastor could sin? To protect the fact that we as a church could possibly make a mistake? To protect our "name" to the world? It was hypocritical that we weren't more focused on how to treat one another! How to forgive! How to leave God's judgments in His hands! Did we really reach the point where we thought we owned salvation to discard people like trash? The pastor was forgiven that summer & I saw a glimmer of humility in his eyes that day, that all of us are human & subject to feeling vulnerable & hopeless.
It stopped me in my tracks from ever considering leaving myself, feeling family love & connection was something I felt was most precious in life, to my very core. Because of my non-compliance to church policy, which I witnessed change day to day, I became ex-communicated myself, cut off from my family that I held so dear.
I believe this church & many other churches start off right. I believe churches can & often do go terribly off track. The end result is so much confusion.
I consider myself one of the many victims of loss & confusion from the WBC. My dear family, whom I love so much, cannot & will not even recognize me as family because of the extreme beliefs propagated even until this day. I hope & pray that change can & will be the result of so many years of heartache & confusion. I pray that Pastor Phelps has a change of heart even if it is his last days. I pray that the remaining family members see what generations of judgment & banishment can do.
I pray that despite all the many families & people affected by the WBC, that they will not have vengeance in their heart, but rather pity.
I have great sadness for the ex-members & family members who despite all their differing circumstances, whether being banished or leaving by choice, are being restricted from making peace with the Pastor during his last moments.
As a nurse I can say that every man & woman deserves the right to make peace with themselves, their family & their God on their death bed. I wish for peace. I wish for change. I wish for families to be reunited in love.
Please help spread compassion & understanding despite the utter confusion in this situation.
Consider this, there are members still there, like my younger siblings, who can and will learn from experiencing compassion from others, not polarizing hate.
Prove the WBC wrong. We all seek peace not vengeance.
Other voices that have joined the call to take the high road include gay rights groups like Equality Kansas and activist George Takei.