Friday, September 25, 2009

Culture Lesson: Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps



photograph of by Mykal Burns under Creative Commons License 3.0

Fred Phelps and his church, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), picketed Brooklyn high school in New York this week, and I was reminded some people think he's 1) the father of Olympian Michael Phelps or 2) an actor.

And since he's actually a bigot leading a hate group masquerading as a church, leading a fanatical fringe group, I thought I should probably host a quick, informative lesson.

Fred Phelps, born in 1929, is an old geezer leading his large Topeka-based family in protests across the nation against non-Christians, most Christians, non-whites, and homosexuals. His group is best known for their poor timing and horrible signs. The group is not formally affiliated with the Baptist church, despite its name.

Their core beliefs include the following:

  • Heterosexuality is the only God-approved sexual orientation.
  • Natural disasters, horrifying catastrophes, and death are God's revenge for rampant sinning by the gay community.
  • One-third of Catholic priests are homosexuals seducing women and children. Pope Benedict XVI is "The Godfather of Pedophiles." The Catholic church is pro-gay. (If only!)
  • Protestants, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Baptists are "rapists" and also pro-gay.
  • "Mohammed was a demon-possessed whoremonger and pedophile who contrived a 300-page work of Satanic fiction: The Quran!" (Fred Phelps to Newsweek)
  • The same is said about The Book of Mormon.
  • The gays are also responsible for American deaths in the War in Iraq. Phelps has said, "God is killing Americans with Muslim IEDs."
  • Hindus are also pretty bad for their "idol worship."
  • Anti-racism claims, despite racist imagery in fliers and pamphlets. (Phelps claims to have supported the Civil Rights Movement.)
  • God hates Italy, Italians, and Italian culture as Italians are "mobster-breeding perverts."
  • WBC is the only friend to America.

Some of their appearances include:

  • Productions of The Laramie Project, a play about college Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 for his sexual orientation.
  • Theaters and Broadway productions (the performing arts is a "gateway to homosexuality").
  • Kansas City Chiefs football games.
  • Appearances by Billy Graham (he is too liberal).
  • The United States Holocaust Museum.
  • A 2002 Holocaust memorial dedication in Topeka, KS.
  • Funerals of gay people, AIDS victims, victims of hate crimes, and soldiers.
  • Funerals of Jerry Falwell, Michael Jackson, Fred Rogers, Coretta Scott King, and Matthew Shepard.
  • 2006 Sago Mine memorial for 12 miners who died following a explosion.
  • 2008 parade for Michael Phelps in Towson, MD. (To Towson's credit, the group was ignored!)
  • The funerals of three University of Wisconsin-Stout students. The students died in a house fire in 2008. (1,000 University of Wisconsin-Stout students drove the WBC away in 15 minutes.)
  • 2009 Academy Awards. (Milk was nominated.)
  • The Anti-Defamation League and DC's largest synagogue. (Same day visit to the Holocaust Museum as well.)

Jerks, right?

In the interest of being helpful, WBC provides an appearance schedule on its website. (I will not be linking to the Web site.) Each appearance on his calendar includes an insightful rant. Here's an example for an upcoming engagement on a Maryland college campus:

Cecil College Milburn Stone Thtr - Hell IS REAL, ask Matt! One Seahawk Drive It was so nice for you to have the Laramie Project in such an evil place - thereby showing just how evil Maryland really is. We will be outside with the same message we had lo those 10+ years ago outside on the sidewalk when all of the liars went in to worship Matthew Sheperd's dead corpse. From the moment he split hell wide open, and even now the only thing Matt wants you liars to do is SHUT UP! You hate Matt and you hate each other. Here's proof: Leviticus 19:17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Psalm 12:2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. Psalm 101:5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Jeremiah 9:8 Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait. Mark 12:33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. It is a two-sided coin, to wit: 1) If you love your neighbour, you tell them the truth about all things and especially the important issues of life, death and eternity! 2) If you do NOT tell your neighbour the truth as set out in scripture - YOU HATE THEM! Shame on Cecil College Milburn Stone Theater North East, Maryland, and DOOMED america. Signed your best friends in the whole world, WBC. AMEN!
Naturally, these activities have not gone over well. To date, WBC has been slammed with lawsuits, legislation, and counter protests. Most appearances—I'd be willing to say all appearances—are met with protesters. The highlights include:

  • The family was sued in 2006 by the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who died in Iraq and drew attention when his funeral was protested. Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps were found liable for invasion of privace and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Snyder's father was awarded $2.9 million in damages plus an additional $8 million. A $5 million verdict has been overturned.
  • It is now a felony to protest a funeral within 500 feet in the state of Indiana. Violators are subject to three years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. (The bill passed the Indiana General Assembly unanimously, 11–0.)
  • Michigan banned "intentional disruption of funerals" within 500 feet in 2006. First-time violators are subject to up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Repeat offenders are subject to up for four years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine.
  • Illinois enacted the Let them Rest in Peace Act (Senate Bill 1144) in 2006 to "shield" military families from protests at memorial services and funerals. Violators are subject to up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Repeat offenders are subject to 1–3 years in state prison and a $25,000 fine.
  • Motorcyclists formed The Patriot Guard Riders in 2006 to protect families of deceased veterans.
  • A Delaware mob chased the group and smashed its van's windows in 2006. Five people were charged in the incident.
  • A garage was set on fire in 2008, causing up to $30,000 in damage.
  • The United Kingdom banned Phelps and Phelps-Royster from entering in 2009 in advance of the group's visit to protest a performance of The Laramie Project. Church members are subject to banning.
  • University of Chicago fraternity bros appeared to a 2009 counter protest nearly-naked and danced to "gay anthems." Students made signs with slogans "God hates the new Facebook" and "God hates dial-up."
  • Kiss-ins are a regular response on college campuses. These are usually gay couples, but larger public counter protests have included straight couples too.

To balance the vitriol, here's a video from filmmaker Michael More's TV series The Awful Truth, Moore, who organized a counter protest:



It's a nice video, because Phelps "leaves in defeat," which is seemingly rare. Sometimes protesters scare the group into leaving, but more often than not, these bigots keep their tempers under a better control, and because they're protected under the First Amendment, the counter protesters find themselves in more trouble.

Resources:
1,000 UW-Stout Students Drive Protesters Off Campus, weau.com
Funeral protesting Westboro Baptist wins on appeal, The Daily Record
Cops: 'Kill Jews' messages may be linked to Kansas crazies, Brooklyn Paper
They'll Bring the Lunacy, You Bring the Laughter, Village Voice's Runnin' Scared
Hate-Freaks to Brooklyn: Bring It On, Gothamist
Church protest against gay club draws counterprotest, Towson Times
A native son's sacrifice honored, Baltimore Sun

1 comment:

Mike said...

Well, guess the folks who say the hate groups overseas that kill innocents are ignorant and do so out of ignorance at least have a thin excuse, these good old boys reach a new all time low, protected by the state to hurt and damage families, thank God i live in Canada.