Tag Archives: Westboro Baptist Church

Difficult to Mourn: Rev. Fred Phelps Dead at 84

20 Mar

fred-phelpsI just learned that the infamous leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., died yesterday.  Phelps, who will be best remembered for his legacy of hate, such as: “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” because all of those deaths were “God’s punishment” for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.  Those of us in the LGBTQ community and our allies would usually hear his name and cringe, thanks to all of the damage he has done to our community.

Typically, Phelps and his family could be seen holding huge signs that read: “God Hates Fags.”  Phelps’ picketing of the late Matthew Shepard‘s funeral catapulted him and his organization into the national spotlight.

While I will forever hold a space of sadness for all the lives he hurt, I have to say that I am holding a space of sadness for Phelps.  What an awful legacy he leaves — a legacy that now he has no chance of doing any repair.  He will always be remembered as a man of hate — a reputation he worked hard to earn.

I can only hope as we reflect on his passing, that we also reflect on what it means to preach such vitriol.  My experience has been that people who have the most difficulty with LGBTQ folk, are usually battling their own internalized homophobia.

Call to action: I also hope that with Phelps passing we look at institutional and structural power that works to target and disenfranchise LGBTQ people.  How do we make a difference and make the lives of LGBTQ people easier? How do we enlist our allies to help us pressure those in power to create policies that create equity and equality?

I suspect there will not be many mourners of Phelps; that is quite sad.  Sad because he leaves only a legacy of hate. I invite everyone to reflect: What do you want your legacy to be?

Update: March 25, 2014:

Nathan Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, released a rather compassionate statement regarding the passing of his father. I have included a particularly poignant excerpt from his statement:

The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.” Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.

It is nice to see that some type of repair work is being done by Nathan.

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Hero of the Week Award: April 26, Joe Bell and Faces for Change

26 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week Joe Bell began a remarkable journey with a tragic origin. Joe Bell of La Grande, OR started a two-year, 5,000 mile walk across the United States in memory of his son, Jadin.

Jadin died February 3 from complications suffered after a suicide attempt. He was only 15. Openly gay in a conservative eastern Oregon town, he was bullied mercilessly and finally gave up. The Faces for Change foundation was established in his memory; its mission is to put an end to bullying.

Joe, who has two artificial knees, will speak at schools and local organizations along his walk, spreading the anti-bullying message. What a remarkable memorial to his son.  Joe shows the strength, power, and influence of LGBT allies!

Honorable mention this week goes to Teamsters Local 25 in Boston. When the ever-infamous denizens of Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket the funeral of Krystle Campbell, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, the union organized a human wall. Over 1,000 members and supporters lined the streets, providing support for the family and blocking any possible view of the planned picket. Westboro gave up and opted not to demonstrate after all, a rare and welcome occurrence.

Update:

Sadly, I report with a very heavy heart that Joe Bell was struck and killed by a truck in eastern Colorado on Thursday, October 10, 2013. I have to believe the good energy Bell put out into the universe will live on and it is a call to action for us all.

God, Guns, and Gays…

17 Dec

palin-gun-100309National tragedies provide us with many kinds of opportunities. As the country joins the people of Newtown, CT in mourning, we also celebrate the quiet heroism of the teachers and staff who helped keep the carnage from being any worse. Some paid for their bravery with their lives; others survived to help with the healing.

Sadly, too many of the usual suspects are clamoring to appropriate the suffering for their own nefarious purposes. Displaying his ususal KKKristian charity, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer blamed our constitutionally decreed religion-neutral society. Saying — without a hint of irony — that God is a gentleman who “will not go where he is not wanted,” Fischer claims that public school prayer and religious instruction would have resulted in the almighty stopping this tragedy in its tracks. Nor is he alone. Failed Presidential candidate, false compassionate conservative, and rightwing radio blowhard Mike Huckabee jumped on the same bandwagon.

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?

Perhaps more to the point, why would we expect a narrowminded, violent Old Testament version of god to protect anyone? To wit, the loathsome legion from Westboro Baptist. Always willing to blame the LGBT community for, well, everything, they plan to picket around Sandy Hook Elementary, labelling the senseless slaughter of 26 innocent women and children as the “glory of God’s work in executing his judgment.” Nice choice of words, as always.

As those on the right rattle their sabers for God, the gun lobby tells everyone that now is not the time for politics, wanting to let the memory of this tragedy fade before we try to engage in a rational discussion about what kinds of weapons belong in the hands of everyday citizens. Over the past 15 years America has suffered far too many of these kinds of incidents — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, now Sandy Hook — and each time there’s a brief flare of “somebody ought to do something” followed by silence and inaction. Let us not forget about Gabrielle Giffords and the shootings in Arizona–Sarah Palin and her hungry gun culture ilk certainly have blood on their hands.

When a mentally ill man can grab legally purchased guns from his mother’s home and fire multiple rounds into the bodies of six- and seven-year-old children, there is something seriously wrong. USA Today published a powerful editorial that pointed out three things we need to look at quickly and carefully.

  • How do we enforce the laws that already exist to minimize the risks and damage?
  • What commonsense restrictions on automatic weapons and military style ammunition do we need to put in place?
  • How can we strengthen the safety net for the mentallly ill to provide them the support they need to minimize the risk of this kind of break?

We cannot let these deaths, adding to the tragic and rapidly mounting toll, be in vain. We must have hard conversations and take decisive action.

UPDATE: As the details roll in and the country continues to mourn the devastating and horrifically violent deaths, the call for sensible revision of gun laws is heating up in the nation’s capital. President Obama wisely noted

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

The NRA and other guns and ammo groups, meanwhile, remain silent, at best offering tepid sympathy for the families.

Staunch gun supporter Sen. Joe Manchin (D – WV), a lifetime member of the NRA, is also pushing for change.

I just came with my family from deer hunting. I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.

Incoming Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D – ND) and Joe Donnelly (D – IN), also supporters of gun rights, are vowing to help change laws to protect the innocent when they are sworn in in January. They’ll join longstanding advocates of gun control like Charles Schumer (D – NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D – CA). Let’s hope they can build the momentum to transform tragedy into action.

Hero of the Week Award: May 27

27 May

Hero of the Week

What an absolutely wonderful surprise this week.  While TSM had several nominations for HWA, two of the nominations were so compelling that today marks the first day that there are two winners.

Nominated by “Voice of the Trailer,” Congresswoman Jackie Speier earns this weeks’ HWA for her heartfelt and compelling self-disclosure of her own abortion in defense of Planned Parenthood:

You know, I had really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey has just put my stomach in knots, because I’m one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at seventeen weeks, pregnant with a child that had moved from the vagina into the cervix. […] I lost a baby. For you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcome or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous. […] There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has a right to operate, Planned Parenthood has a right to offer abortions, last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country. You may not like Planned Parenthood; so be it. There’s many on our side of the aisle that don’t like Halliburton […] but do you see us filing amendments to wipe out funding for Halliburton? No, because frankly that would be irresponsible.

It clearly did not take much to expose New Jersey Republican Chris Smith for the misogynistic hater that he is.  Brava, Jackie Speier! Click here to see the full story.

Nominated by Jennifer Lockett, Lisa Lampanelli also earns this week’s HWA. The funny and irreverent stand up comic, Lampanelli, was performing in Topeka, Kansas, also home to the nefarious and homophobic  Westboro Baptist Church.  When Lampanelli  learned that there would be protesters from Fred Phelps church present, she made a pledged to to donate $1,000 for every protestor who shows up to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis — the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services provider.  Click here for the full story.  Brava, Lisa!  Click here to see the video of Lampanelli giving a check for $50,000 to the GMHC.

Wednesday Word of the Week: March 9

9 Mar

The Face of Profanity

This week’s word is: PROFANITY

Language that is offensive because it is rude or shows a lack of respect for God or religious beliefs – Macmillan Dictionary Online

One of the hottest news topics over the past week was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder v. Phelps. In a rare display of unity (other than Justice Alito, whose contempt for the Phelps family’s behavior created a resonant dissent), the Court ruled in favor of the members of the horrific bigot cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church. For anyone with a sense of humanity who is also an ardent supporter of free speech, this is an agonizing dilemma.

As we’ve noted on this blog before, free speech is a bedrock principle of this country and even people with distasteful messages have that right. From a strictly legalistic perspective, relying on significant precedent, Phelps seemed the most likely victor in this case. As Salon.com noted, however, there is an interesting, debatable point in the central argument put forward by Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion:

“The protest was not unruly. There was no shouting, profanity or violence.”

Westboro protests are notorious for adhering to the letter of the law. It is true that they do not shout (anymore) or practice physical violence. They also follow any local guidelines about protest and assembly assiduously. So far, so good. But no “profanity” in their protest? That is highly debatable.

Westboro is also notorious for signs that state baldly “God Hates Fags” or that bear cartoon depictions of anal sex (usually with the universal “no” sign of the red circle with a slash.) That is certainly rude and disrespectful. It is fairly clear from the majority opinion that the use of the word “profanity” really activates one of the slipperiest areas of free speech, that of OBSCENITY

Indecency, lewdness, or offensiveness in behavior, expression, or appearance. – American Heritage Dictionary Online

Obscenity is often not protected under the First Amendment. Are Phelps’ signs obscene? The Salon.com article does a good job of analyzing the legal issues here, and the most probable answer is “not quite” since courts tend to put pretty narrow walls around free speech exceptions. Enough uncertainty exists, however, that local jurisdictions wanting to put tighter controls on certain kinds of protests could probably construct laws that would restrict Phelpsian hate speech while not violating the First Amendment.

Freedom is tricky, and speech is one of its trickiest elements. There are clear exceptions (such as speech while on the job) and there are muddy areas like Westboro’s technically legal and morally abhorrent actions.  It is interesting to note the somewhat counterintuitive reactions to the decision. Former Phelps counter-protestor Romaine Patterson wrote a wonderful editorial supporting the decision. Some strict constructionists on the Far Right, however, have reacted against the ruling, typically lacking any sense of history or irony. NOM’s odious Maggie Gallagher rails against a ruling protecting hate speech, even though she is a regular practitioner of such speech. The perpetually confused half-governor Sarah Palin blasts the majority opinion and then backpedals confusingly.

In the end, I am deeply torn by this decision. I’m grateful that a conservative court did not take advantage of this situation to chip away at free speech. I truly believe that we must protect everyone’s speech or the freedom is illusory. Nevertheless, I find Westboro so repellent that any ruling which supports their actions – even tangentially – makes me ill.

Taking solace in the knowledge that democracy is hard, I’ll offer one word for Phelps and his ilk that is much less slippery than “profanity” or “obscenity”…

Extremely unpleasant or offensive – Macmillan Dictionary Online

REPUGNANT.

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