Fred Phelps has received far more attention than he deserves and I realize that by blogging about him , I’m furthering the unfortunate absurdity that is his existence. If you don’t know who Fred Phelps is, please click on the link at his name – it will take you to a Wikipedia page that gives the history of this man who is arguably America’s most notorious homphobe.
The reason I write, though, is that many people are missing the point.
Phelps and his gang are in the news today because a jury ordered them to pay almost $11 million to the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. Why? It’s a long, convoluted story that, if anything, proves this man and some of his children and followers are mentally ill and need treatment. Seriously. Read the story.
Gay people hate him because they see him as a threat. He’s not. Most likely, he helps the cause of lesbians and gays by pushing people who never think about our plight over to our side. No reasonably-minded straight person wants to be aligned with a monster like Fred Phelps. Anyone who listens to a man who has a website called “GodHatesFags.com” and thinks, “You know, he makes a lot of sense!” was never going to like us anyway.
Christians despise Phelps too. Many of the comments I’ve read on the AOL report of this story are from Christians who write things like “These people are not Christians. God loves and forgives everyone, for all their sins.” Actually, homosexuality is not a sin, I don’t need your God’s forgiveness for anything, and yes, Phelps has the right to call himself a Christian whether you like it or not. Under the constitution, you, sir or madam Christian, don’t have the right to limit the membership of your religion.
That’s the point of this story. Fred Phelps is a despicable human being. If evil exists outside the imagination, his is certainly its face. Picketing and protesting at funerals, whether it’s for AIDS victims, the Minnesota Bridge collapse victims (no shit), Matthew Shepard’s funeral or American service members, is as low as a person can go when it comes to exercising their right of free speech. It goes against the right that people have to grieve in private and I’m glad the jury agrees although it’s debatable whether the verdict will stand up on appeal, and I’m sure Phelps and his 75-member church don’t have $11 million. I mean – look – he’s wearing the same stupid hat and reversible jacket in these photographs, taken over 4 years apart.
The issue is that under the first amendment, Phelps’ church is a protected sanctuary. Under the umbrella label of a Christian church, he can say whatever he wants about lesbians and gays, Hollywood entertainers (he also picketed the funeral of Frank Sinatra, claiming Sinatra was the “Chairman of the board” of the homosexual-loving entertainment industry) and anyone else. He can tell 2- year old children in his church that God hates fags and that God demands that they hate fags, or they will also go to hell. Other Christians can observe in horror as Phelps poisons minds this way, but he has the right to do it. This is America. We have a Bill of Rights. As a Marine, I was willing to defend Phelps’ right to preach his hatred, with my life if necessary.
I’m still waiting for my thanks, Reverend Phelps. After all, we both went to Bob Jones University.