Fred Phelps did not represent my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. But if I treat his death like a holiday or rejoice in it (or Ted Bundy's or even Hitler's death) then I also fail to represent my understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
As John Donne said so long ago, no man is an island, and every man's death diminishes me. We are all grains in the sand of humanity, and to encourage and be entertained by the death or destruction of another makes me less of a person in the long run. It's a tough line to walk because I want to hate Phelps. I want to despise him for his venomous statements and his hate-mongering and his propensity to showboating and grandstanding at what should have been personal, private occasions. But if I do, I fail as a member of my own faith, and I fail myself.
So, I'll let Donne sum up my thoughts with his own words:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
And besides, I'm lying if I even try to believe my filthy rags aren't just as dirty as Fred's or anybody else. I'm just better at hiding them behind civil behavior.