In an ultimate bit of irony, gay rights advocates are paying tribute to the late Fred Phelps Sr. by crediting him for a major boost in public support.
Phelps, who died March 19, was pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., infamous for its high-profile picketing of everything from military funerals to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minn. For Christians who regard their religion as one of love, Phelps and his message of hate were the antithesis.
His most infamous message was one of animosity for gays and lesbians, as in the slogan his group thrust into prominence, “God hates fags.” He repeatedly blamed society’s ills on its tolerance for the “sin” of homosexuality and other nefarious activities. He condemned everyone from Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Bill Clinton to Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, Sonny Bono, Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mormons, atheists, Muslims, murdered college student Matthew Shepard, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ebert, Jews, Catholics, Australians, Swedes, the Irish and U.S. Soldiers killed in Iraq. Let’s see, did he leave anybody out?
His church organized protests of funerals, college graduations, critics of the church and the Minnesota highway bridge collapse, in the latter case charging that Minneapolis is the “land of the Sodomite damned.” They argued it was their sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger, although it usually came across that they exhibited enough vitriol for both of them.
Phelps, a disbarred lawyer and failed political candidate, described himself as an Old School Baptist who held to all of the Five Points of Calvinism, including the ideas that some people were ordained for salvation before birth and that Christ died only for the elect.
It is mystifying where in the Bible he found justification for the depths of these beliefs, in particular viewing the degree to which Jesus sought out those who were labeled sinners and repeatedly challenged the spiritual elite of the day. Jesus’ advice was always to love your enemies, to bless and don’t curse them.