Former South Floridian Aaron Jackson began his career of philanthropy by deworming Haitian kids -- for which he was first the subject of a New Times cover story and later named a CNN Hero.
With his charity Planting Peace, he then went on to buy an "Equality House" in Topeka, Kansas directly across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, famous for its "God Hates Fags" rhetoric. The house was painted in rainbow colors, to serve as a symbol of love and support for the LGBT community and counter Westboro's influence.
Well, Westboro leader Fred Phelps Sr. -- who believed that natural disasters and school shootings were god's way of punishing people for homosexuality -- died yesterday at age 84, and Planting Peace responded only with love. Surviving church members said that Phelps' death meant little, as God still hates the gays.
Perhaps serendipitously, two days ago was the one-year anniversary of the rainbow-striped painting of the Equality House. In the past year, the house has actually become a tourist attraction, and residents have maintained a curious co-existence with Westboro neighbors, with Shirley Phelps even offering to come help paint the house at one point. On its Facebook page, Planting Peace posted:
One year ago today Planting Peace painted a small home across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church the colors of the Pride flag to serve as a visual reminder of our commitment to human rights advocacy, education, and anti-bullying initiatives around the country. The Equality House has become so much more than we could have ever imagined and we are overwhelmed by the love, support, and generosity we've been shown in joining this movement. Thank you all!
Then yesterday, as news broke that Westboro leader Fred Phelps had died, the group posted:
We are saddened to hear of the passing of Fred Phelps Sr. We have sent our sympathies to the Phelps family and plan to assist them in their time of grief if needed. The philosophy of the Equality House has always been to overwhelm hate with unconditional love. A loss of a human life is never a reason to celebrate, even if you have a stark disagreement. Fred was a father, grandfather, and great grandfather that was loved deeply by his family. Let us remember that we are all in this world together and vengeance is never justice.
In the meantime surviving church members said they would be picketing indie band Young the Giant, and they said via their website that Phelps Sr's death changes "Nothing."
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ does not rise or fall with any man - in fact, the Lord doesn't need ANY of us. This is still a nation and world awash in sin. We will still warn you of this condition, out of our love and fear of the Lord, and out of our love for our neighbors. Here is the message of Westboro Baptist Church: God still hates fags, God still hates fag enablers and any nation that embraces that sin as an 'innocent' lifestyle can expect to incur the wrath of God. Repent or Perish."
They also managed to mock both journalists and the pope:
It's like every journalist in the world simultaneously set aside what little journalistic integrity they have, so that they could wait breathlessly for a rumor to publish: in-fighting, succession plans, and power struggles, oh my! How shameful! You're like a bunch of little girls on the playground waiting for some gossip!
Listen carefully; there are no power struggles in the Westboro Baptist Church, and there is no human intercessor - we serve no man, and no hierarchy, only the Lord Jesus Christ. No red shoes, no goofy hat, and no white smoke for us; thank you very much.
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