Westboro Baptist Church

People For the American Way Statement on the Death of Fred Phelps

According to reports, Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and its virulently anti-gay protests, died yesterday.

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement:

“Fred Phelps made a name for himself by protesting the funerals of soldiers and hate crime victims. In particular, he spent decades causing immeasurable pain to LGBT people and their families. My thoughts are with all those people today.

“Very much in spite of himself, Fred Phelps was an important figure in the movement for LGBT equality. Other right-wing leaders have chosen their words more carefully, and the WBC even protested some far-right activists for being insufficiently hateful, but plenty of Religious Right leaders have always agreed on Phelps’s core message: that God reacts to gay people with divine punishment in this world and damnation in the next. Fred Phelps just said what so many anti-gay activists have always believed.

“When Americans were faced with the choice of accepting their LGBT neighbors or endorsing Phelps’s unfiltered hate, they chose the former. He showed anti-gay bigotry for what it really is: profoundly un-American. Phelps lived to see a nation that more and more decisively rejected his vile message. That’s his legacy.”

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Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Is Dead

Notorious anti-gay activist Fred Phelps has died, according to news reports.

Fred Phelps was the founder and patriarch of Westboro Baptist Church, which he and his family members used as a base for attention-grabbing protests at funerals of people who had died from AIDS, at gay-rights rallies and marches, at churches he deemed insufficiently anti-gay, and later at the funerals of American soldiers (based on the “logic” that America itself is vile and hated by God for its growing acceptance of LGBT people).

It is hard to know how much pain Phelps caused individual LGBT people and their families, particularly young people struggling with their sexuality and/or faith, with his denunciations.  But he certainly failed in his mission to frighten or harass Americans away from support for equality. In fact he may have accelerated the trend by putting such an unappealing face on anti-gay bigotry that many American Christians wanted nothing to do with him.

Phelps did allow other anti-gay leaders to posture that he was the face of hatred, not them. But the substance of their message to gay people is similar: repent or be damned – it’s just that Phelps framed it as “God hates fags” while people like Bryan Fischer say God loves them and wants them to abandon their demonic lifestyle. They may have disagreed on rhetorical strategy, but they shared their hostility to an America in which LGBT people are treated equally under the law.  In the end, other anti-gay religious leaders, even ones who distanced themselves from Phelps’s rhetoric, were tainted by him.

The Phelps family has inspired some truly creative activism by pro-equality activists, who used their appearances to raise funds for progressive organizations, and who created visually striking walls of “angels” to keep Phelps family protesters out of view of grieving family members.

Fred Phelps’s decision to protest military funerals may have accomplished the most in terms of helping more Americans view anti-gay bigotry as broadly un-American. He may have left exactly the legacy he didn’t want.

Daubenmire Defends Westboro Baptist Church Because 'What If God Really Told Fred Phelps To Do That?'

One thing that we have rarely, if ever, heard from the ardent anti-gay bigots that we monitor on this blog was any sort of defense of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for their "God Hates Fags" protests.

Even the most militant anti-gay activists tend to distance themselves from the Phelps cult and decry their protests as vile and unchristian ... but not "Coach" Dave Daubenmire who today defended Westboro on the grounds that Christians have no right to judge the way in which this church carries out its mission.

Defending both Koran-burner Terry Jones and Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, Daubenmire said that while he personally might not do things the same way, he is in no position to criticize them because "what if God really told Fred Phelps to do that?"

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