Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

The “Negative Sainthood” of Rev. Fred Phelps

Rev. Fred Phelps, a "Nemesis Saint"?

Rev. Fred Phelps, a “Nemesis Saint”?

Topeka, Kansas –  Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle has posted a new article on Huffington Post Religion.  You can visit the original article here.  Comments and shares from the Huffington Post site are appreciated by all the readers of http://unfinishedlivesblog.com.

Rev. Fred Phelps, Founder and former Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is dead at the age of 84.  Pundits and regular people are busily dissecting the story and social significance of one of the most venom-filled ministerial lives in American history, as well as the hate-mongering “ministry” the Westboro Church became notorious for doing since 1991.  What, however, is the spiritual and theological import of the life Fred Phelps lived and the religious leadership he carried out for better than two decades?  What does Fred Phelps teach us about God, and the service of others in God’s name?

Dare we even speak of Rev. Phelps as a “negative saint,” the polar opposite of all Christ-like saints, given the carnage Phelps left in the lives of countless queer folk, slain service members, and cultural celebrities he and his flock picketed and condemned to eternal damnation?  “Saint-language” seems blasphemous when we apply it to a man’s life so rabidly committed to eliciting the worst from the human spirit and the Christian faith.  Nevertheless, every life lived has something to teach us about ourselves and God, does it not?  How can we not speak of Phelps as we must speak of ourselves and all others who stand need of the amazing grace of God?  Allow me to explain what I mean.

We remember the epithets Fred Phelps reveled in.  He made “God Hates Fags” a standard feature of modern hate speech.  We cannot erase from our minds the images of Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, and Diane Whipple writhing in the animated hell fire that Phelps installed on his web site, complete with a background soundtrack of groans and screams to drive home the message that nothing he could imagine could be worse than to be gay and lesbian.  We will never know the number of fanatics Phelps inspired by his vileness, nor the multitude of LGBTQ people young and old who felt his criticisms crush their self-esteem and cut into their souls like knives.  But we have seen his kind before: Pharaoh, and Saul, Ahitophel, and Judas, to name but a few oldies but baddies.  Or Roy Cohn, Senator Joe McCarthy, and “Bull” Connor to name some near contemporary bad guys.  I am sure you have your own personal list. Nevertheless, Phelps and his bad seed still wind up serving God just like the best of us.  That is the theological sense Fred Phelps makes.  His “negative sainthood” shows us that the worst wickedness is, in the end, powerless before grace and mercy.

Karl Barth in his Shorter Commentary on Romans (SCR) and throughout the Church Dogmatics (KD and CD) teaches that the Pharaoh of the Exodus who held the Hebrew children in abject slavery with a hard heart ultimately found himself broken upon God, who uses the story of Pharaoh’s human darkness to witness to divine mercy, standing right alongside Moses who testifies to God’s liberating justice.  Barth writes, “Therefore Pharaoh too serves ‘the power of God’ (SCR, 73).  Barth struggled against anti-semitism and fascism with a theological strength we need to deal with homophobia and transphobia.  Like the contrasting pair of Pharaoh and Moses, Barth talks about Judas Iscariot and Jesus. Barth writes that Judas, the “rejected man,” is the best pattern he can find of a person who rejected goodness, going so far as to pronounce judgment on himself, and joining Jesus in death.  Yet every “rejected one” remains a witness to God, who in the end shows that the very amazing grace upon which the future depends is also there for the “rejected,” too.  Barth declares: “The rejected man exists in the person of Jesus Christ only in such a way that he is assumed into His being as the elect and beloved of God . . . With Jesus Christ the rejected can only have been rejected.  He cannot be rejected anymore” (KD II/2, 502; CD, 453).  Fred, too!

So, does that mean that Pharaoh, or Judas, or Fred get a pass on what they do, thanks to some sort of weak-kneed universalism, the idea that God saves everyone regardless?  Barth denied such a possibility: “The Church will not . . . preach a powerless grace of Jesus Christ or a wickedness of men which is too powerful for it. But without any weakening of the contrast, and without any arbitrary dualism, it will preach the overwhelming power of grace and the weakness of human wickedness in face of it” (KD II/2, 529; CD, 477).  Fred Phelps and Joe McCarthy and Judas Iscariot must, in the end, answer to the same justice and grace of God their words and deeds rejected when they refused to treat all of God’s children with justice and love.  The deeds of the “negative saints” of God are terrible, and it is only right that they should somehow suffer.  No one knows what Fred Phelps had to face from his excommunication or upon his sick bed.  But Fred and Joe and Judas depend upon and bear witness to the divine mercy, also—just like Moses and Mary and Martin Luther King Jr.

Even a “Nemesis Saint” like Rev. Fred Phelps is a witness to the divine mercy.  “Saint” Pharaoh, too.  And “Saint” Judas.  For all the saints, pro and con, testify to the grace and justice before which we are all alike in utter need.  No one I know shows the impotence of wickedness or the need of divine mercy more than Fred Phelps.  And in that way, at the very least, “Saint” Fred shows me something mysteriously awesome about the amazing grace of God.

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Fred Phelps, gay bashing, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, Kansas, Karl Barth, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Special Comments, Westboro Baptist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dad Teaches Little Son to Hate Gays, Jews, All Americans: Phelps’ Legacy of Hatred

WBC often uses child protestors - PinkNews photo

Topeka, Kansas – Steve Drain, a member of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, is proud of his 7-year-old son Bo.  Young Bo has learned to hate on a grand scale: Gays, “hundred and hundreds of Jews,” all citizens of the United States, are bound for eternal hellfire.  ABC News 20/20 reports that from the cradle, children of the notorious, gay-hating Topeka church are taught that anyone who violates their interpretation of the Bible is bound for everlasting punishment.  Gay people are particularly singled out in Bo’s young mind, thanks to the indoctrination he has received from his father, mother, and teachers at WBC. Bo sincerely believes gays by the millions are headed for damnation: “You get destroyed and you get put in hell. Hell is like a burning place where it can never be stopped, burning, and it can burn millions of people every day,” he said.  Because the government allows diversity, and for the most part does not punish lesbians, transgender people, and gays, Bo has been taught that all Americans are de facto “fag enablers.”  His father, Steve, was so impressed by the message of Phelps back in 2000 when he came to film a story on the church, he returned to Florida, packed up his family, and moved them to Topeka to join the 70-member congregation.  He and his wife Luci live just outside the church compound with their four children.  The allure of the church is not unlike other utopian, world-hating sects from the past: certainty based on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible and morality, security in a swiftly changing world, salvation from hellfire, and purity from the stains of sin and immorality.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has highlighted this church before, and others like it because of the potential for violence that religious bigotry and hate speech breed.  While the connection between indoctrination in hatred and physical violence is hotly debated, and courts have upheld the first amendment rights of groups like Westboro Baptist Church to protest at synagogues, LGBT churches, schools, and the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers, there is little doubt that when fringe personalities act violently to harm vulnerable individuals and groups, “true believers” like WBC see the hand of God in the deeds.  When the Drains take their children to picket the funerals of military service members killed in the line of duty, they and the other members of WBC praise God for taking the life of another “fag enabler.”  According to ABC’s 20/20, Steve Drain, Bo’s father, said the church arrives at the funerals to let families know their loved ones are in hell because they fought for a supposedly damned country. “Remember what we all say: No God fearing man or woman would lift a finger fighting for a country awashed in sin like this,” Steve Drain said to his son.  Though the Drains have an estranged eldest daughter, Lauren, who rejects the hatred her family and WBC has taught her, the younger children are content to protest, picket, and preach for hate, at least for now.  Bo tells ABC News, “I’m preaching and I’m going with this church, and that’s what the church says. I’m going to go with that my entire life”—A sobering thought for Father’s Day.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Florida, Fred Phelps, funerals, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Lesbian women, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Southern Poverty Law Center, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Gay Church Smears Students and Teachers at “Fag-Infested” Boston School

Westboro Baptist Church children protesting a military funeral

Boston, MA – Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church has issued a press release saying that a protest will take place June 7 at Boston Latin School.  What sets this protest action apart from many others the church has mounted is the virulence of the verbal attacks on the “violent, freakish, worthless, brute-beast children,” who attend the school, and the “perverts” who run it, according to Baywindows.com.  On the church’s online picket schedule, the stated purpose of the protest is “to remind this nation that God is cursing Doomed america [sic] because parents raise their children for the devil and teachers teach them the twin lies that ‘God loves everyone’ and ‘it’s OK to be gay!'”  WBC’s contention that Boston Latin School is “fag-infested” is a theme the Phelps clan has ridden to international attention many times before.  The Topeka, Kansas church gained infamy by picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard in Casper, WY, and then attempting to build a monument in a public park there declaring Shepard’s murder date to be the day he “entered hell.”  Shepard died in October 1998, the victim of the most widely publicized anti-LGBT murder in U.S. history.  The Casper City Council denied WBC the right to erect the offensive monument, a decision upheld by the courts.  Finding it difficult to gin up enough support from gay-bashing tactics in recent years, WBC has switched its attention to private funerals of fallen U.S. servicemembers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The “logic” seems to be that the U.S. government, which according to WBC pronouncements is “fag-enabling,” has sent women and men to die in foreign wars only to consign them to the nether regions thanks to the “pro-homo” policies of the government.  In what may be a landmark freedom of speech case, WBC and Phelps are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold their defense this Fall in the celebrated suit of Matthew Snyder’s family, according to the Washington Post.  The Snyders took action against the church for “invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy” at their son’s 2006 funeral.  Snyder, a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.  The Snyder family suit contends that statements on the WBC website, his actions, and those of members of WBC including some of Phelps’ own family who comprise a large percentage of the Topeka church membership are not protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The Phelps led church has also turned its attention against Jewish schools, synagogues, and temples. Supporters of Boston Latin School are preparing for the Phelps protest with the aid of an organization named “Phelps-a-thon,” founded by Chris Mason to counter WBC’s homophobic presence by raising money for LGBT causes in a unique way.  For every minute the WBC protest demonstration takes place at the school, Phelps-a-thon will raise donations for the Boston Latin School’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  Since the protest is scheduled to occur for a full 30 minutes, the amount should be considerable, undercutting the hateful purpose of the anti-gay picket. After every Phelps-a-thon money raiser, Mason sends a Thank You card to Fred Phelps informing him of the total donated during the protest for LGBT human rights causes.  As the subversive website says, “We can turn these hateful words into positive change.”  Boston Latin School is the oldest school in the United States, founded in 1635 by the town of Boston, a full year before Harvard University was founded.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-Semitism, Boston Latin School, Fred Phelps, funerals, gay men, Gay-Straight Alliances, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Massachusetts, Matthew Shepard, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Phelps-a-thon, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-Gay Church Smears Students and Teachers at “Fag-Infested” Boston School

Phelps Clan to Protest at Gay Fashion Designer’s Funeral: When Religion Turns Preposterous

Topeka, KS – Alexander McQueen, renowed gay fashion designer, died on February 11.  That same day, Fred Phelps, founder and chief screed-monger of Westboro Baptist Church, issued an announcement declaring that WBC would demonstrate at McQueen’s funeral “in religious protest and warning”  (see WBC web site graphic to the left).  Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a genius in the fashion industry who was named British Designer of the Year four times, and most recently was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with the rank of CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2003 in recognition of his lifetime achievement.  His obituary in The Times of London notes that he was formerly head designer at Givenchy and then moved into partnership with Gucci.  The shock value of his designs drew attention to his genius, and he counted Rihanna, Björk, and Lady Gaga among his more famous clients.  McQueen’s sexual orientation was no secret throughout the fashion world.  Phelps announced that his church was picketing McQueen’s funeral because he spent his life “teaching rebellion against God” and “committing crimes against God,” presumably by living openly as a talented, notable gay man.  Phelps also used the moment to slam Lady Gaga, calling her a “proud whore” who had “blood on her hands” for wearing McQueen’s creations.  Though Phelps and his independent Baptist Church are engaging in protected speech under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights, their scramble for contributions and attention goes beyond innocence when they lambaste fallen U.S. servicemembers, synagogues and churches,LGBT people, and celebrity figures under the banner of freedom of expression/freedom of religion.  It would be a mistake to underestimate the effect of this brand of hate speech on the gullible and impressionable–when direct links between hate speech and violence can be established, the full force of law must be brought to bear in order to prevent harm and loss of life. The link between hateful speech and hate crimes continues to be hotly debated, but though Phelps may not be guilty of hate violence yet, he and his followers have made their brand of religion look silly.  Should anyone take him seriously?  Alexander McQueen may rest undisturbed by the rantings of the likes of Phelps.  If anything, Lady Gaga can bask a bit in the knowledge that she has made WBC’s “Anti-Christ List” along with so many other worthy people.  The King James Version of  the Book of James 3:11 reads: Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Phelps twists the goodness of religion turning it into a bitter hate-filled caricature that sours what it touches.  Exponents of Good religion, the Golden Rule/Great Commandment kind, must work overtime to repair the damage to faith communities that Christian jihadists like WBC do in the name of God.

February 14, 2010 Posted by | gay men, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Kansas, Law and Order, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anti-Gay Monument Struck Down

Matthew Shepard

 

Advocate.com reports that the US Supreme Court has ruled against Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in their petition to build an anti-gay monument condemning slain LGBT icon, Matthew Shepard.  Phelps wanted to erect the monument in a governmental plaza in Kansas reading, “Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s warning ‘thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.”



 

Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

Phelps Anti-Gay Monument

The Supremes ruled unanimously that government parks receiving monument donations are under no obligation to accept them all.  Phelps previously attempted to erect a similar monument condemning homosexuality and Matthew Shepard in a city park located in Shepard’s hometown, Caspar, Wyoming.  The city council rejected the offer. 

Shepard, who was openly gay, was brutally murdered by two young men from Laramie where he was attending the University of Wyoming, in October 1998.  The news of the heinous hate crime murder rocked the nation, and awakened millions to the existence of anti-LGBT violence in their own backyards.  Both his attackers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, are serving life sentences.  To date, no federal hate crimes prevention statutes have been enacted into law.  The Matthew Shepard Act is under consideration during this Congress once again.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Monuments and markers, Remembrances, Wyoming | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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