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This is a topic that people get really weirded out about, especially when I tell them that I would still sit vigil for someone who people considered evil if they were dying. Not because I particularly like them, but because they are a human being.
Because even the worst of us deserves compassion, especially when dying.
I know there are many people who will disagree with me on this. There are many people who are very much revenge minded when it comes to criminals, especially criminals who do the more heinous types of crimes. I can’t really argue with that sentiment initially. There’s anger and a need for some sort of justice. This is a normal reaction, and really, is part of the grieving process (and I define grieving really broadly here, since there are many types of losses and pain other than just death).
But, if I fully believe in, and intend to practice as clergy, radical inclusion, then that has to include the criminal and evil do-er, too. If I believe that God/dess loves everyone just as they are, and that God/dess’s love is unlimited, then why would people like Fred Phelps be excepted from that love? I believe that God will have some hard lessons for those who have done evil in this world, but that’s for God/dess to judge.
In US society, in particular, we tend to leave people who have committed crimes behind. They rarely are seen as people deserving of spiritual guidance or attention. They are also rarely seen as people who can change. People who spout hate are not seen as deserving of compassion because of their hateful words. We also conflate compassion and forgiveness with having to like the person being forgiven. I can have compassion and forgive someone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like them, or will want them in my life on a regular basis.
What makes me so special to decide who God/dess will or will not love? This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be justice, or that people don’t need to be called to account for their actions, but if I am telling someone else that they do not deserve the love and compassion of the Holy Spirit, what makes me different from them and their hate?
I firmly believe, especially at the end of life, that no one, not even Fred Phelps, deserves to die alone without someone there to be the witness to his passing. If God/dess can give that much love and compassion when the gates are open, so can I.