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

KKK and “GodHatesFags” Zealots Turn On Each Other

Arlington, Virginia – Klansmen joined in a counter-protest attempting to screen military funerals from a Westboro Baptist Church picket at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend.  The Fred Phelps-founded protestors, made infamous by their “God Hates Fags” campaign and their more recent demonstrations at the funerals of fallen United States military servicemembers, found themselves confronted by a number of members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist KKK cell based in Powhatan, Virginia, according to the Hatewatch post of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Including the KKK, 70 counter-protestors waved American flags and held up pro-USA signs, blocking the funerals in progress from the demonstrators holding signs brandishing such slogans as “Fag Nation,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for IED’s,” typical of the anti-American message propounded by the Topeka, Kansas Baptist church in its continuing opposition to “homosexual lifestyles.”

Dennis LaBonte, spokesperson for the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers, said that their counter-protest was in defense of freedom of speech and in support of the U.S. military. LaBonte told reporters that it was the military in this country that fought to defend the rights of groups like Phelps’s Topeka, Kansas church which recently successfully defended itself before the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit brought by the parent of a Marine killed in combat–a soldier whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboro zealots to condemn the “fag-enabling ways” of the nation.  “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said.  Responding to the Klan counter-protestors, Abigail Phelps, an attorney as are many of her siblings, complained to CNN that people should not “idolize” soldiers who died in national service, or anyone else who died in an “unrighteous cause.”  When directly asked about her reaction to the presence of KKK members in opposition to the Westboro Baptist demonstration, she told the reporter, “They have no moral authority on anything.” According to yourblackworld.com, Phelps went on to say, “People like them say it’s white power … white supremacy.  The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”

Nationalism makes strange bedfellows, indeed–enlisting bigots in competing demonstrations against other bigots.  No one in the LGBTQ community is under any illusion about the feelings of the KKK toward them, however.  As the SPLC points out, the Klan hates gay people only slightly less than they hate Jews, African Americans, and “mongrel races.”  As one blog commentator wrote, “On the one hand, this could be laughable, but it is not. One could also [take this news] with a grain of salt. Neither side are LGBT friendly. Let them fight among themselves.”

June 4, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Arlington National Cemetery, Bisexual persons, CNN, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, harassment, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Kansas, Klu Klux Klan, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Protests and Demonstrations, Racism, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Marines, U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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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