Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
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Monday, January 09, 2006

Remember the Monty Python game 'Spot the Looney'?

Fred Phelps (I refuse to link to his site, so you'll have to Google it yourself if you want to see it), who in my opinion is a hatemongering evil on the lunatic fringe of Christianity, has protested at gay funerals for years, and has picketed other churches, including my friend D's for supposedly supporting gays. Now he has taken his homophobia (and you know what they say about people who are afraid of gays, don't you, Fred?) to new heights by picketing the funerals of soldiers who lost their lives in the war against terror.

He and the extended family who make up the majority of his church demonstrate with signs designed to shock, things like 'Thank God for 9-11' and 'Thank God for dead soldiers'. For the families who are grieving a terrible loss, the signs are a jarring and painful experience. One grieving mother said, "This is an evil that is beyond explanation. It's beyond all understanding." (ABC7Chicago.com: Law would limit protests at military funerals) She is so right.

As far as I can tell, what Mr Phelps and his followers are practising is in no way Christian or based on teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead, it is hate packaged in Christian wrappings, and claimed to be speaking for God. In some ways, it's totally ludicrous, and it would be easy to dismiss them as a bunch of loons. And of course, they have certain rights to free speech, although those rights end when what basically amounts to harrassment and threats come into the picture.

The sad thing is, most people didn't care when he was picketing funerals of gays. There was some outrage at the widely reported desecration of Matthew Shepard's funeral (the young gay man beaten and murdered in Wyoming). But all in all, Phelps and his crew were able to continue their hatemongering. Then they started on soldiers' funerals, and for many this was going too far, making a circus of a solemn event, making a mockery of the sacrifices these young men and women have made for their country.

I'd like to see laws enacted that would prevent the desecration of any funeral by such protests, regardless of who is being honoured at the funeral. Grief is grief, regardless of how someone died or who they are. It sickens me that Phelps and his crew will challenge such laws so that the government must waste money on defending the right of privacy that the dead and their loved ones have.

As a librarian, I'm obviously an opponent of censorship. But freedom of speech should not apply to hate speech, especially when directed at a particular group, no matter what that group may be. Hate speech begets hate crimes; it dehumanises a group and encourages those vulnerable to the message of hate to think of its victims as less than human. That's wrong, plain and simple.

Personally I hope Mr Phelps has a chance to meet and be judged by the Christian God, although I don't think it is truly the God he worships. I'd say he's in for an unpleasant surprise. For all the inconsistencies I see in Christianity (and the annoying tendency it has to evagelise), the God of the Christians is supposed to be a loving God, which if Phelps has actually read his Bible, he should know. The laws of the Hebrews are fulfilled with the coming of Christ in Christian tradition, with the Golden Rule becoming the one most important law to follow. Nor can we really trust Pauline tradition, since he claimed to come to Christ only after the latter's death, and basically bought the Gentile franchise within the new faith from Christ's followers in Jerusalem (look at the letters where he begs for money to pay them off). Jesus never says anything about gays, and in fact extorts those without sin to cast stones, with the knowlege that none of us is without sin.

But I guess for Phelps, the word of the Son of God isn't worth following.

Lastly, I'll leave you with a letter D--who was understandably riled up by the news of the latest protest planned--sent me, written by a pastor in Australia to Fred Phelps that appeared in an online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians.

And as a postscript, let me just reiterate that the above is my opinion on the matter. Anyone wanting to sue me for defamation will be sorely disappointed, as 1) I don't own anything worth having and 2) I have a little thing called free speech, too, and am entitled to my opinion regarding a public figure. Mr Phelps has made himself public and open to comment by his own actions.

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