At the risk of starting an intramural fight here at Ordinary Times, I’m highlighting Elizabeth’s recent article at The Week, Why Christians should forgive Fred Phelps, as a companion to Russell’s recent post If I ever visit Topeka, I shall pack dancing shoes. Elizabeth offers many worthwhile points, but this is probably the key takeaway:
In forgiving them and locating common ground with them, we have the opportunity to practice — both in the sense of rehearsal and mere doing — forgiveness, and through doing so to strengthen Christian fellowship with forces that could otherwise weaken it. It’s hard to look for the worth in people and easy to find the failings, but lived Christianity is challenging for that very reason.
I am definitely not telling Russell or others how they should feel, nor am I suggesting that we diminish the harm that Phelps and his ilk have inflicted on individuals and communities (far from it; as Elizabeth notes, forgiveness demands an acknowledgement of such harms). I do not know how I would feel about his passing had I been a more direct target of his hatred.
But Elizabeth’s viewpoint is important, and it applies beyond a specific Christian framework. Forgiveness and mercy cannot be abandoned when they are the most difficult, for that is when they are the most necessary.