Frame of Reference

Humanizing the Dehumanized: Understanding Fred Phelps' Frame of Reference

I wrote this a long, long time ago, and sometimes - very rarely - but enough times for me to get tired of emailing it, I re-posted it here. I find myself sometimes having to emphasize that I'm not a supporter of the Phelps group, nor their ideologies, but my intention, as I state in the mini-essay, is to provide something useful to whomever wishes to understand Pastor Fred Phelps (deceased) better.


While my intent is to provide something useful to whomever wishes to understand Pastor Fred Phelps better, I must tell you that there is no substitute for getting the information for yourself from the Westboro Baptist Church, or Fred Phelps himself. Whenever we see or hear someone presenting something that is so offensive to us, we often make a very hurried attempt to dehumanize the person that offends us. Such it is with Pastor Fred Phelps. When he preaches “God Hates Fags,” we hear that and label him a hatemonger and pat ourselves on the back for not being so hateful as he. We don’t usually think about why he does what he does, what he might mean, or what motivates him. We quickly make an effort to dismiss him as a hatemonger, a closet homosexual, or anything else that will allow us to go on with our lives and not give him much thought other than a dogmatic anger and disgust for the fact that he is allowed to spew hate, and what shocks us more is that people actually buy into it. We don’t think about his frame of reference. We don’t think about his motivations. All we can think about is what a bad person he is. It’s normal. People have been doing it for a long time now, and we’ll probably continue to do it. What I want you, the reader to be able to say, after reading this, is that you can understand, maybe not agree with, but at least understand where Phelps is coming from, and that you remember that he is, after all, a finite, fallible human being. We all are. The question you need to ask yourself when examining Fred Phelps, or anybody, for that matter, is “What problems does he see that he is trying to solve?”


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