Homophobic Group Draws Fire
by Conrad Goeringer
The nation's leading religious news service complains that a Topeka, Kansas preacher who insists that "God Hates Fags" has become a major embarrassment even to most Christians. Religion Today said in November that Baptist preacher Rev. Fred Phelps has become increasingly visible in the mass media for his hate-filled protests against gays. Phelps intends to follow his appearances on "20/20" and "Eye on America" with a stint on the "Jerry Springer Show."
Phelps may do well on Springer; his outrageous comments, including "God Hates Fags," have proven to be as incendiary as anything that Springer has aired. Since 1991, Phelps and his church have been conducting what they term a "ministry of public religious pickets," which has targeted gay pride events. Phelps even picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay student from the University of Wyoming who was found murdered on October 12 in what officials suspect was hate-motivated crime. At the funeral, Rev. Phelps and his congregation waved signs declaring "No Fags in Heaven."
Phelps directs his campaign at anyone who fails to agree with his antigay scriptural interpretation. When St. David's Episcopal Church in Topeka denounced the "God Hates Fags" ministry, Phelps promptly set up a picket line during St. David's services, waving signs reading "Fag Church." St. David's complained that Rev. Phelps was interfering with services, and obtained a restraining order. A state judge, and later the Kansas and the U.S. Supreme Courts, sided with the Episcopalians.
Phelps' tasteless antics at Shepard's funeral prompted even Jerry Falwell to speak out against him. On November 29, appearing on the "Larry King Show," Falwell said that "god loves everyone." Phelps responded, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch that his group was "just preaching the Bible, not this kissy-pooh stuff Falwell is putting out. You can't preach the Bible without preaching hatred."
Phelps also attacks groups identified with religious conservatism. Phelps and his picketers stopped off at Bob Jones University to protest a recent decision to allow homosexuals to enroll in the school's art museum program -- a move required to maintain its tax exemption.
Religion Today, though, considers Phelps and his group to be a growing liability. Even the militant, anti-abortion Christian Defense League declared that Phelps' movement "puts Christians in a very negative light." They call his picket of Matthew Shepard's funeral "about as reprehensible as you can get." Phelps is described as extremely "media-savvy," and is thick-skinned about being called a hatemonger. If critics "knew how little I care, they wouldn't waste their time."
While religious conservatives may distance themselves from Phelps, there is a kind of truth to his contention that "God Hates Fags." Religious Right groups agree that homosexuality is condemned. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, has tried to link homosexuality with everything from Satanism to Nazi Germany. Rev. Donald Wildmon of American Family Association mentions gays in the same breath as murders and thieves. The small but influential Christian Reconstructionist movement advocates execution for "sodomites," a position not very different from Phelps' sign saying "AIDS Cures Fags." Indeed, Phelps may simply be the harder edge of sentiments which is deeply rooted throughout America's fundamentalist and evangelical subcultures -- efforts to separate the "sin" from the "sinner" notwithstanding.
(abridged by Cliff Walker)
The Gospel Spin Doctors
by Cliff Walker
The Christian anti-gay movement has a problem with Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, who teaches that "God hates fags." The problem, as I see it, is not that Rev. Phelps is "incorrect," but that Rev. Phelps chooses to present the unmodified "truth" taught in biblical Christian dogma. Phelps has solid scriptural authority to back his message: the god of the bible is quoted as having clearly ordered that homosexuals be put to death without pity.
Meanwhile, the Christian anti-abortion movement copes with its own problem child, Fr. David Trosch of Mobile, Alabama. Fr. Trosch, if you remember, advocates killing abortion providers, thinking that this is war, and that "protecting the unborn" mandates what he calls "justifiable homicide." Pointing out that it is clearly good to stop someone from shooting an innocent victim, even if the only way to do this is to kill the killer, Fr. Trosch carries this argument to its logical conclusion. If a fetus is, according to Roman Catholic dogma, fully human and deserving of protection, then the killing of an abortion provider is within the teachings of the Catholic Church: Anyone who says otherwise is unfaithful to Catholic dogma.
From the standpoint of historical and scriptural Christianity, the positions of Fr. Trosch and Rev. Phelps can be very compelling to the mind of someone who uses religion as his or her only authority. Both men's cases are virtually airtight when seen from this perspective. Dogma is held above any other authority, and obedience to dogma becomes the greatest virtue. ../toccliff.htm#MIDDLEROAD
Fortunately for us, most theists in America today use a combination of faith and reason to make their everyday decisions. More and more, reason overrides difficult dogma; in many cases, reason reinterprets faith, or ignores it, or explains it away.
Political leaders of the Christian right use this to their advantage. Anti-gay forces who are most serious about winning their cause will dissociate from Phelps, and anti-abortion groups denounce Trosch -- even if it means publicly compromising what they privately teach is revealed dogma.
Appearing on The Tom Leykis Show, Fr. Trosch was able to get his opponent, Fr. Gregory Cuoro, from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, to admit that he could justify killing someone who was shooting innocent people if that was what it took to stop him. Trosch then used this analogy to justify "protecting the unborn" by shooting abortion providers. Fr. Cuoro responded:
Where your argument fails is that what we are engaged in is, as you put it, a war.... If we are concerned with winning this war, then we have to make sure that the tactics that we use are going to bring about success.... Your tactics are bringing about, if anything, failure. There was a poll ... that said that as a result of these shootings [John Salvi], people are now more sympathetic to the abortion position.
There it is: It's the tactics that the others oppose, not the sympathies behind the acts. Why? Because the tactics of Trosch and Phelps, though rooted in the same dogma, bring down the wrath of public opinion, thereby frustrating the common goals of both the mainstream and the radicals.
The difference is that Fr. Trosch and Rev. Phelps are self-consistent: as reprehensible as their deeds are, their actions correspond with their dogma; they are not hypocrites.
It is dogma itself that is reprehensible. Those who distance themselves from Phelps and Trosch are more devious than are Phelps and Trosch, because they try to hide their true motives from the public. Neither Phelps nor Trosch is sophisticated or dishonest enough to do this.