God Hates Fags, Bourbon Street, Abortion, the Iraq War, Soldiers, and YOU!
Pastor Fred Phelps Sr. is the spiritual leader of a small church in Topeka, Kansas. During the 60's he was a civil rights attorney, advocating on behalf of blacks. Inexplicably, he now spends his time protesting the funerals of American servicemembers killed in the War on Terror, asserting that their deaths are divine retribution for the American military's morally ambiguous "Don't ask, Don't Tell" policy towards homosexuality. At the funerals, church members hold signs proclaiming "God Hates Your Tears," "Thank God For Dead Soldiers," "God is America's Terror," "Thank God For 9/11," and "God is Your Enemy," among others. Increasingly, Phelps' church has been met by overwhelming numbers of counterprotesters, a group of motorcyclists calling themselves the Patriot Guard Riders, who block the pickets from being seen by funeral goers.
"At that service for Staff Sgt. Mark A. Wall, who died April 27 of a heart attack in Iraq, riders formed a line in front of the protesters and kept their backs to them. When members of the church group started to sing a doctored version of 'God Bless America,' some riders revved their bike engines."The protests have led various state legislatures to adopt laws restricting the right of people to picket funerals. Many experts in constitutional law warn that, when challenged, the laws won't hold up in court.
"'Our position is that you don't honor fallen heroes by trampling on the constitution that they swore to uphold,' said Marv Johnson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union."As someone who values civil liberties, I have my own reservations about laws restricting protest, but my tolerance has its limits. Phelps incenses me, which means he wins, I suppose, but screw it-- some people need to be rubbed out. People like Osama. People like Pastor Phelps.
Legal Disclaimer-- I do not advocate violence against anyone whom the government does not.
Being a former soldier, I abhor Pastor Phelps' message. It strikes a deeply personal chord and tests the limits of my restraint. The Christian thing to do would be to show only Christ's love and forgiveness to the Pastor and his misguided flock, all of whom seem to have forgotten that fundamental aspect of their religion.
But as I've said here before, I'm not a Christian. I believe in extending the olive branch until the other guy extends the sword, at which point the hand behind my back hiding the sword swings into action and cuts down the other guy before he can cut me. But Phelps hasn't resorted to violence, just preaches it, and so we, who claim to be a free society where such civil liberties are protected, must allow Phelps to continue to exist and protest, even if he disgusts us. Despite the lessons I learned in Iraq, I am still (somewhat) civilized, and resolved to use physical violence only to defend myself from the same. My days of killing for ideology are over. Sometimes I wonder if I was shooting at the wrong color religious wackjobs when I was an ideological killer-for-hire. Maybe I should've concentrated my efforts on the homefront. Too late now--damn humanistic morality compelling me not to kill--always making life complicated. I guess it's easier to blame the fags. It's definitely easy to blame Phelps. Hating dead soldiers isn't too popular these days.
After the rage subsides, I think about the recent statements of other, more respected, American fundamentalists:
Katrina gave us a preview of what America would look like if we fail to fight the war on terror. "Did God have anything to do with Katrina?," people ask. My answer is, he allowed it and perhaps he allowed it to get our attention so that we don't delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again.These assertions are, unlike those of Fred Phelps, believed by millions of god-fearing American Christians. Reading God's mind and interpreting His will isn't entirely confined to the right wing, either.
~Charles Colson, former Nixon special-counsel and radio commentator
It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been expecting for decades have finally arrived. And even worse, it appears that the judgment of America has begun. I warn continually that the last days lineup of world powers does not include anything resembling the United States of America. Instead, a revived Roman Empire in Europe is to rule the West, and then the world.
But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way? And he goes down the list of the things that God says will cause a nation to lose its possession, and to be vomited out. And the amazing thing is, a judge has now got to say, "I will support the wholesale slaughter of innocent children" in order to get confirmed to the bench. And I am sure Judge Roberts is not going to say any such thing. But nevertheless, that's the litmus test that's being put on, the very thing that could endanger our nation. And it's very interesting. Read the bible, read Leviticus, see what it says there.
And as we think about rebuilding New Orleans, surely God is mad at America, he's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and it's destroying and putting stress on this country. Surely he's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretense. But surely he's upset at black America, also. We're not taking care of ourselves...In a strictly logical sense, a sense the faithful don't seem to exercise, Phelps, who identifies the death of Americans in battle as proof of God's disapproval of our military's policy towards homosexuals, is on the same tenuous ground as Nagin, who identifies Katrina as proof of God's disapproval of an immoral war in Iraq, or Robertson, who identifies the same event as proof of God's wrath against legalized abortion. The men who advance these views all claim to know the will of God. Fred Phelps is really no different from Pat Robertson, he's just more in your face. The proof of God's wrath identified by Phelps, dead soldiers, is simply more narrowly defined (and politically unpopular) than Robertson's, which includes entire cities and nations as being potential targets of God's wrath. The premise of these fallacious religio-historical arguments is always the same-- God is angry, I know why, and the proof is [insert catastrophe here].
We ask black people: it's time. It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans...This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.
~Recently re-elected Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their [the clergy's] hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
A portion of this statement (not the part specifically identifying the clergy, of course) is inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial, and the phrase, "sworn upon the altar of God," has been taken literally by conspiracy theorists eager to prove that Jefferson was a member of one of the free-thinking secret societies existent during his day-- all interesting tidbits to consider when religious conservatives invoke the memory of Jefferson and the other founding fathers to justify theocracy. An especially ironic coincidence is Jefferson's choice of the word "abortion" to describe the destruction of the clergy's hopes for an American theocracy. Now, abortion is the great political rally point for Christian fundamentalists desirous to impose theocracy.
Like Jefferson, I hope for the speedy return of our country's good sense. This November, Karl Rove and the GOP will attempt to mobilize Christian fundamentalists with homophobic ballot initiatives that seek to prohibit gay marriage and adoption. I know how Fred Phelps will vote. I know how Pat Robertson will vote. They believe that a vote to allow gay marriage is a vote for immorality, a vote that justifies a vengeful God eager to smite down this country with hurricanes and dead soldiers. If you're a fence sitter, like me, on the issue of whether homosexuality is a result of nature, nurture, or some combination-- consider if you can afford to be a fence sitter when it comes to the more relevant issue of gay rights. Will you vote with Fred Phelps and the other tyrants of the mind, or will you assert your American right to overthrow tyranny in all its forms?
Behind their hate, a constitutional debate
Riders Shield Military Families
Funeral Protests Force Free Speech Debate
Religious conservatives claim Katrina was God's omen, punishment for the United States
Transcript of Nagin's speech