Diane Silver

Fred Phelps and Goodness

Filed By Diane Silver | October 06, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Christian beliefs, First Amendment, Fred Phelps, Supreme Court, Westboro Baptist Church

As I continue work on The Goodness Project, pastor-fred-phelps-001.jpgI can't ignore the day's news: The Rev. Fred Phelps gets to make his case to the U.S. Supreme Court today. A friend noted this morning that all the media attention is probably a dream come true for Phelps.

I suspect she's right, but I've watched Phelps and the Westboro Church for 25 years now. I live quite close to them in Kansas. Whatever joy today brings, I think their dreams and their lives must be hell on earth. Let me explain.

Phelps claims to know the path to goodness -- a path that in his church twists through rage, hatred and delight over death and suffering. Phelps' fury at gays knows no bounds. His rage at anyone who disagrees with him is equally savage. His theology -- such as it is -- was once summed up on another blog of mine by one of his followers:

You cannot understand the love of God until you understand His hate. You must understand that certain (most people) people will be cast into Hell, and some (a very small remnant) will be saved.

This is the theology of God as a violently abusive father. Pitiful humans must learn the rules, toe the line, sit up straight, eat all their vegetables, never speak unless spoken to, never talk back, ignore their own experiences and life lessons and do whatever Daddy says, or face a righteous beating. The ultimate beating, of course, is Hell. This is theology stripped of all compassion, all love.

Can you imagine living like that? What terror that must spark. What if you misunderstand the rules? What if you can't force your mind into this narrow hole in the ground? What if you were, perchance and by God, born gay or transgendered or in any way different from what Phelps defines as right? And what if you retain compassion for the grieving families at the funerals you picket?

The Westboro Baptist Church is so tiny because it's largely Phelps family. People are born into this church, and to leave it is to leave one's family behind and be shunned. Several of his children have done so. I've been told that at least one had to climb out of a window to get away. I suspect that some of his grandchildren have also left.

Consider the choice facing a loving child or grandchild in this family. Forever walk away from your mother and father and the only life you've known, or stay, picket funerals and knowingly inflict suffering on others. Be shunned by your family or live in a slough of hate, fury and fear.

Phelps says he's doing right. As his follower explained to me:

You say we missed what Jesus had to say about love. Well, you are wrong. He said to love your neighbour as yourself, but you don't have a clue how to truly do this. You think this means to coddle people in their sins, don't you. It really means that you are supposed to rebuke your neighbour of his sins and warn him that his sins are taking him to hell if he doesn't repent...

And do as much as possible to bash your neighbors into submission? So they don't sin? As you sin by trying to torment them into goodness? How exactly does that work? Is it like a father who tries to beat the gay out of his son? And if that father doesn't use a baseball bat, but instead resorts to words by ridiculing, shaming, harassing, attacking, is that right? Is emotional torture OK?

I believe the First Amendment right to free speech is one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed. I have no idea what right and good decision the Supreme Court should make. All I know is that goodness isn't found in screaming at a grieving father that you're thrilled his son is dead. Even a quiet picket line has no speck of goodness in it. I don't think anyone's funeral should be picketed, not even that of the preacher Phelps.

This man and his followers claim to preach goodness. They claim to do good, but this isn't any goodness I recognize. All I see is tragedy. For the people Westboro pickets. For the people trapped in Fred Phelps' hellish church.


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Great article -- you're absolutely right. His son Nate Phelps ran away when he was young and moved to Canada. His personal account is brutal and he goes into great detail about what he went through: http://natephelps.com/10801.html

Sadly these so called Messiahs come around every decade. We have the likes of Jim Jones, who had all of his sheeple commit suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Warren Jeffs who probably has spawned every inhabitant of Colorado City, Arizona and now Fred Phelps. There should be watchdog groups that monitor these people that are off kilter before they do harm to their sheeple and are also a threat and burden to Society. These fanatics that preach repentence will find their place alongside the non repenters sailing down the river Styx to the gates of Hell. They are not worthy of the publicity that they get.

Now one of these preachers has a nightly forum on Faux Noise. Carl McIntyre, Father Coughlin, and Gerald L.K. Smith must be turning green with envy down in olde tyme radio hell.

Soon enough they'll start passing the grape coolaide and be raptured like the rest have been. ....or someone in a old Nova will mow them done for protesting one too many military funerals.

" I don't think anyone's funeral should be picketed, not even that of the preacher Phelps."

The problem is that the AG's who helped out in this case (47 out of 50) don't think that no one's funerals should be picketed, just that soldiers' funerals should be picketed. This lawsuit is more about people not properly respecting the troops, not people who violated the sanctity of funerals. If the Supreme Court does decide that the Phelps clan's First Amendment rights don't protect them from suits against their speech acts, it won't be a victory at all for LGBT people.

That said, we'll see how they decide. The government is already doing so much to curtail effective public protest (like mass arrests at major events, setting up restricted free speech zones, pre-arresting people they think may protest, shooting tear gas and using sonic guns on crowds of protestors, infiltrating groups that may protest) that taking away the legal right to certain protests won't change much.

The problem is that the AG's who helped out in this case (47 out of 50) don't think that no one's funerals should be picketed, just that soldiers' funerals should be picketed.

That may be true, but in Kansas, which isn't exactly a liberal bastion, the Legislature passed a law banning picketing at funerals in 1992. This was a direct response to Westboro and their picketing of the funerals of gays. That law was overturned by a federal court. And for what it's worth, the Kansas Legislature is extremely conservative. Even for them, however, picketing a funeral is going too far.

Sadly, that's not the case elsewhere mostly. Indiana, for example, refused to even consider a ban on picketing funerals of gays but immediately following the first picket of a soldier's funeral suddenly the entire legislature was interested.

Dead gays = silence
Dead soldiers = patriotic fervor

:(

@Alex: But aren't the Phelps hurting the feelings of military families? Isn't that what's important here?

Seriously though... I'm equally torn on this. If it comes down as "you can't picket/attend a funeral where the family does not want you", that could have a large impact on LGBT people. It's one thing to show up to the funeral of a loved one and get hostility from homophobic relatives. It's another to be carted away to jail for it...

I think the real case here shouldn't be hinged on rights based on location or message, but rather based on intent. The intent of the Phelps clan was to stir up publicity and to preach to others, using the funeral as a method and an "example". Even they admit that much in the quote above. They did that at the expense of the emotional suffering of the family, and should be held accountable for that.

I hope/predict the justices will find a way to uphold the lower court and award the lesser amount, but will do so based on wording not far from that used in the FCC involving "community standards". With that they can set a standard against actions done by the Phelps clan, while punting when it comes to restrictions on free speech. That's still not the best thing for our country, or our community, but at least it's not a direct ticket to jail for showing up at an ex's funeral.

Phelps is a dingbat IMHO. I think it would be a travesty if the Supreme Court limits his right to free speech in any way because we will all have lost. In a perverse way that would make him into the hero of the Plantation owners who seek more control over the slaves. Besides, I want to retain the right to smile at Fred and say "Jesus never knew you".

These misfits are less than one-third of those that identify as "Christian." We should be focused on what the other two-thirds will do. Will they quietly sit by and approve of this hatred or will they rise up and change their religion. NOW would be a good time.

The silence of gay Christians is hurting the LGBT community.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | October 7, 2010 2:35 AM

Andrew,

Human Beings, who are religious, do not have to disavow their beliefs, nor change their religion; they only have to rise up and speak up against inhumanity to other peaceful Humans, and stop being silent.

"The silence of gay Christians is hurting the LGBT community."

The silence of all/any peaceful humane Human Beings, who belong to any religious denomination, or who are agnostic, or who are atheist, is hurting the Human community.

Oftentimes peer pressure is much stronger than family "pressure." Perhaps it is time for other humane Humans to exert peer pressure on these inhumane groups of people, than to merely be silent and allow the courts to handle it.

If people, like the Phelps' clan are allowed, via Freedom of Speech, to protest funerals, then perhaps it is time to gather protests (constant, non-stop, persistent protests) outside of their church location. It is not necessary to block entry to their church, nor deny them their religion, but just stage protests with signs, using the exact same strategy as Phelps, but with positive messages from the rest of Humanity, via Freedom of Speech.

I wonder if the media, like Faux Noise, will report such humane counter protests?

I wonder how the Supreme Court would rule if Plelps pursued lawsuits against the counter protests, especially if the counter protests had local permits to stage the protests.

How might society view the counter protests, knowing why they are occurring?

"Spaceship Earth"... we have no other place to go.

jami

If people, like the Phelps' clan are allowed, via Freedom of Speech, to protest funerals, then perhaps it is time to gather protests (constant, non-stop, persistent protests) outside of their church location.

Thanks for the comment. Alas, I have to tell you that picketing the Westboro Baptist Church would probably have little impact. For a protest to be successful, it has to influence someone. Phelps and his people would only take your picket as a sign they are right. You also won't influence the people in the church's neighborhood because his neighbors already hate him. The entire city of Topeka hates Phelps and the Westboro Church. I'm pretty certain anyone who has ever heard about him is disgusted by him, so I'm not certain what a picket would accomplish.

On the other hand laughter might get somewhere. See this newspaper column for what happened after the oral arguments in the Supreme Court. Also, using the Phelps as a way to raise money is also a delight. (Pledge to give so much money to lgbt causes per hour or per minute for however long the Phelps protest).

jami_bantry jami_bantry | October 7, 2010 2:40 AM

Andrew,

Human Beings, who are religious, do not have to disavow their beliefs, nor change their religion; they only have to rise up and speak up against inhumanity to other peaceful Humans, and stop being silent.

"The silence of gay Christians is hurting the LGBT community."

The silence of all/any peaceful humane Human Beings, who belong to any religious denomination, or who are agnostic, or who are atheist, is hurting the Human community.

Oftentimes peer pressure is much stronger than family "pressure." Perhaps it is time for other humane Humans to exert peer pressure on these inhumane groups of people, than to merely be silent and allow the courts to handle it.

If people, like the Phelps' clan are allowed, via Freedom of Speech, to protest funerals, then perhaps it is time to gather protests (constant, non-stop, persistent protests) outside of their church location. It is not necessary to block entry to their church, nor deny them their religion, but just stage protests with signs, using the exact same strategy as Phelps, but with positive messages from the rest of Humanity, via Freedom of Speech.

I wonder if the media, like Faux Noise, will report such humane counter protests?

I wonder how the Supreme Court would rule if Plelps pursued lawsuits against the counter protests, especially if the counter protests had local permits to stage the protests.

How might society view the counter protests, knowing why they are occurring?

"Spaceship Earth"... we have no other place to go.

jami

Phelps is a very sick and demented man who has poisoned his family. I will not only be at his funeral and picket it, I will dance on his fucking grave!

eagander, this is a tough issue (what to do at Phelps funeral), and I feel your pain and fury. I've shared it for years. But what makes Phelps so hideous is his utter lack of compassion and empathy. We turn ourselves into him if we picket his funeral. We strip ourselves of our ability to feel if we treat him the way he treats us, and doing it because we feel like we need revenge or doing it out of righteous anger doesn't make it any more right. Phelps acts out of righteous anger every second of every day and look what that has done to him and his family.

"The silence of gay Christians is hurting the LGBT community." - AndrewW

The silence of gay Christians is more understandable when you consider that there's usually an AndrewW around to tell them that they believe in fairy tales, and write them off.

The subject matter doesn't matter, the venue doesn't matter. Within 30 minutes of posting anything on Facebook or one of the major blogs, somebody -- and usually a bunch of somebodies -- is going to post a comment condemning religion and religious people, and somebody is going to blame all of the problems of the world on the Republicans. Even if neither is mentioned in the news item.

So what do you do when people in your own community condemn you? Keep silent?

Fred Phelps may be an extreme example, but it's all vocal intolerance toward whole classes of people, and not that different from what Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh do. They're the shock jocks of talk radio, but such intolerance and hate is widespread, and comes from both the right and the the left.

I think the idea is was not that gay Christians should be vocal to gay people (which you imply), but rather that they should be vocal in the congregation. If there's someone in your congregation that's going to tell you what you believe in is fairy tails, why are they at church?

Which Christian denominations have formally denounced Westboro Baptist? Which Christian denominations have recently sounded the alarm because of the young gay suicides?

I remember a similar religious silence after 9/11.

Andrew a laughing stock such as Fred doesn't need denunciation. All that does is feed his ego.

I guess you think that same strategy applies to muslim terrorists? Just ignore them?

While I can not speak for all denominations I am pretty sure that Fred Phelps does not play well in the United Church of Christ. I am also recall that the bullying and resultant suicide of Tyler Clementi was mentioned in a Sermon the following Sunday where I attend, condemning the actions of the bullies as well as the general treatment of LGBT Americans. Not all Christian Churches follow lock step with those who oppose any rights and offer condemnation of LGBT Americans.

Yes and I believe UCC is the only denomination to condemn bullying based on sexual orientation or gender expression. I don't believe any other denomination has.

UCC is very progressive.

Plenty of LGBT people in my congregation. Not silent. Out. Elected to office in the church. Presbyterian, and actively working for open ordination throughout the denomination. In a spirit of forebearance and love.

We don't waste time condemning terrorists. We reach out to Muslims in friendship and accept invitations to participate in local gatherings.

And we believe in the Living God.

By all accounts, Fred Phelps believes in Fred Phelps.

Why do people benevolently always seem to want to excuse mean, hateful behavior as a "sickness?" It may be an abstraction, e.g., a moral sickness, but it is not a mental illness--what an insult to the mentally ill! Phelps and his followers are ignorant, hate-based people who hurt others for their own gratification. I would never excuse their behavior by terming it an "illness," i.e., sometning over which they have no control. Just as we restrict the actions of other mean people who have no regard for the rights of others and harm them, the rights of these evil and harmful people should be restricted, as well.

In regard to Fred Phelps, I can only say how can Phelps disregard entire sections of the Bible at the exclusive fixation on one or two passages? Added to that from what I can tell these passages may have some question as to how correctly they are translated anyway. In my opinion Phelps has little resemblance to what I have seen in those who have truly become Christians. There is no love shown by him, as he just preaches hate. If you believe, there is one who will judge the actions of Fred Phelps and I am not as sure as Phelps seems to be that will go well for him.