“I actually hope Fred Phelps is in heaven…with all those whose funerals he picketed in this life, realizing that nothing separates us from God’s love. And that he’s surrounded by fabulous angels in rainbow robes, honey, and they give him a fabulous rainbow feather boa to welcome him home!”

I wrote this on facebook the day Fred Phelps died (March 19), and I mean it.  This is my hopeful vision for eternal life.

When someone as hateful and bigoted as Phelps dies, it tests our theology and pushes us to consider how far God’s grace and mercy extends.  One of the scripture passages that I read at every funeral/memorial service I perform is from Romans, “We are sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”[1]

Nothing separates us from the love of God, we even can’t separate ourselves from the love of God, though we may try.  You see, it would be justice, God’s style of justice, for Fred Phelps to be in heaven with all those soldiers whose funerals the Westboro Baptist Church picketed and all those GLBTQ folks, particularly young gay men who died of AIDS, whose funerals his “church” picketed over the years.  And I think it would be God’s justice for those folks to be the very first ones to greet him in heaven.  To place a rainbow feather boa around his neck to symbolize that even someone like Fred Phelps is welcome home to dwell with God for eternity.  God’s grace and mercy extends to sinners and saints alike.  We do receive grace unmerited from God our Creator.

For a person who preached hatred and animosity and disturbed funerals to realize as soon as he came home to the very heart of God that he was so wrong his whole life because God’s love defies our human sensibilities and understandings–that is God’s justice pure and simple.  The first will be last and the last will be first.  And guess what, those very people you hated so much in your sad, cruel life are God’s beloved sons and daughters just as much as you are!

Now do I forgive Phelps for the years of hatred and all those he wounded just because he died?  Certainly not.  Should others, especially those most affected by his life’s cruel work?  No, not necessarily.  There are some people who perform acts that are unforgivable for us, but perhaps not unforgivable for God.  As someone once wisely pointed out to me, when Jesus dies on the cross he asks God to forgive his tormentors who are crucifying and mocking him.  He doesn’t say I forgive you, for you don’t know what you’re doing to me.  He says “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”[2]  Sometimes we need to ask God to forgive because we just can’t get there ourselves, so we ask God to extend the grace that we just can’t.

If we hold fast to nothing separating us from God’s love, I believe that reconciliation with God is always possible–even and especially for lost sheep like Fred Phelps.  I also take comfort that it’s not necessarily up to you or me to be the ones to extend that grace–that is God’s job.  But if I have a say, I really hope that a fabulous rainbow feather boa is part of the extension of God’s grace in heaven.

[1] Romans 3:38-39, NRSV.
[2] Luke 23:34.