“God Hates Fags” and influential power I found in Topeka, Kansas

god hates the phelps graffiti on westboro baptist church billboard

Picture taken by Elder Whitworth at the Phelp family’s compound in summer 2009.

The big news that seems to be on many of my friend’s minds is the topic that Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is on his deathbed as reported by his son Nathan Phelps. He is viewed as an icon of hatred against the LGBT community. There may be people, who will be glad at his passing or give the church “a taste of their own medicine” in protesting their founder’s funeral. But I think thanks rather than retribution is in order.

This blog evoL= written by robw77 beautifully reflects my feelings towards this man.

lds missionaries topeka kansas

Elders Whitworth, Swapp, Barker, and Nielson.

I served as an ecclesiastical representative for the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) from October 2008 to October 2010. These are called missions. Those who aren’t LDS would probably recognize us as the kids (barely even shaving) wearing suits with name tags that say “Elder ______” (No, Elder is a title, not a name). Or young women wearing the skirts down to the ankles with name tags that say “Sister ______.” Despite our monotone appearances we’re actually really unique. I felt sorry for the sisters since the only way they could express their individual identity was to wear crazy scarves. A part of me died when I was relegated to baggy suits, frumpy white shirts, and drab ties.

topeka billboard being sexual

Picture taken by Elder Swapp in downtown Topeka. Spring 2009.

I served in a magical place called Topeka, Kansas (where you go if you wanted to be severely disappointed since it failed to deliver its promises… in my case at least.) for about 5 months with my companion Elder Swapp.

Topeka, Kansas also happens to be the headquarters to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and they were definitely not pleasant folk. If they weren’t out protesting some other event, they could be found in the streets of Topeka protesting education or something else. An Episcopalian chapel was burned down a couple of years before I got there. The WBC saw the burning as an act of God; I really would not be surprised if it happened to be one of their members that burned it down.

The Episcopal Church has been a church I especially admire for their progressive nature. I remember as an adolescent hearing about them in the newspaper: their practice of women being ordained to the priesthood or having the first openly gay clergy. It wasn’t talked about very fondly in my area of Utah, but no one really knew who Episcopalians were anyway except for what was printed in the heavily LDS/republican influenced newspaper: The Deseret News. I actually admired the Episcopal Church’s inclusive nature and their ability to try to include all of God’s children in their form of communion with the saints.

I actually knew the a member of the leadership and a few of the parishioners from that chapel since Elder Swapp and I volunteered with them once at a place called “Let’s Help”- a food kitchen with a mission to feed the poor and homeless. His parishioners I met were always very friendly – genuinely friendly (I can tell the difference). I believe that they genuinely tried to do what they felt was right. I had actually been to the this man’s home where he, his male “housemate,” and their kids lived.

Maybe they were just housemates but having your housemate in all your family pictures raises a bit of suspicion. I could understand his reasoning in peddling his relation to his housemate as nothing more than a lease agreement since Mormons are not known for being particularly inviting towards gay people. Especially since the LDS heavily supported prop 8 in California, which was implemented the year before. I’m sure he wanted Elder Swapp and I to see him as a person first – which wasn’t an issue for me, but would stereotypically not be expected by someone LDS and from a culturally monochromatic region like I was. (I actually had a woman in Wichita cuss me out when she found out my companion and I were LDS. Her reasoning? Because of the church’s involvement in prop 8 when I, understandably, did not support it.)

He taught me a great thing: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… [And] Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22:36-40).” He himself believed that even Jesus was not perfect in understanding all of these laws at first and He had to learn for himself. There is a scripture Matthew 15:21-28 in which a woman that had a daughter possessed by a devil pleading with Jesus for her daughter’s health. Jesus said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is they faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

To this man (which I can’t remember the name… sorry. I should ask Swapp), Jesus had the ability to grow in understanding. Despite what Jesus was commanded to do, he did what was right and not just orthodox. This is continuously proven in all the New Testament as you have a constant battle over the meaning and ends of the law as interpreted by Jesus and the scholastic interpreters of the law: the Pharisees and Sadducees. The whole purpose of the scriptures and the law is to gain the ability to become more like God and if they don’t prove to that effect, then they avail to nothing. This pastor had something Fred Phelps didn’t have and that was the ability to love which is characteristic of all real Christians (John 13:34-35). I would say that many Christians are not actually “christian” by that definition and that “christians” are not necessarily Christian.

Robw77 makes a great point in the fact that we should thank Fred for raising public awareness of LGBT discrimination, violence against LGBT persons, and the “mirror that many Americans had to face about their own attitudes about LGBT people.” His hatred and baised opinions he brought to demoralize the LGBT community has brought many christian denominations to seriously rethink their stance on their opinions of LGBT persons as they can tell that his interpretation of the Bible “is not of God.” The Bible in his case was not inspired of God but of his own human devising.

[On a side note, I’ve gone to the WBC’s website www.godhatesfags.com and looked up their supporting evidences for quite a few of their anti-gay sermons. Most all they have are scriptures referencing Sodom and Gomorrah. He relates all these to homosexuality in his sermons. My argument against that would be: “Hello! You are a Baptist. The theory of homosexuality being linked to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an old Catholic theory that was formulated long after your supposed last book: “Revelation” was written. (And actually John wrote that before the gospel of Luke was written.) Aren’t Catholics going to hell in your opinion? Didn’t they screw up the “gospel?” Isn’t that Bible you’re reading a Catholic invention? Second of all, lets look at what your all holy word of god actually says about the destruction of these cities instead of relying off your outdated Catholic beliefs that they don’t even believe to be inspired anymore. Ezekiel 16:49 – “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” As far as I read the Genesis account, I don’t find the story to say anything overtly regarding homosexuality. What I do see is a lot of attempted rape (Genesis 19:4-10).”]

Aside from the physical reasons why Fred Phelps is not worth our hatred is for our own sakes. As robw77 states, “He was a man with a mission. His failure to succeed is his triumph.” But even if he did set human kind back; if he did aid the prolongation of the thought that people identifying as LGBT are more animal than human, he would still not be worth our hatred and energy.

This Episcopalian congregation lost a lot, and to some, the burning of their chapel might have been viewed by the imbecile as the judgment of God for their different interpretation of the Bible and the character of God. But their actions speak louder than all of Mr. Phelp’s words could.

Something that concerns me is the great enmity that exists in the relationship between the LGBT community and the LDS church here in Utah. I do get really upset at times when people narrow their minds on theories that don’t hold water when brought before true Christian life and science because another person is believed to converse with God; it really does. Our Book of Mormon teaches against that sort of thing as a matter of fact: It’s called priestcrafts. (We as Mormons really don’t have an excuse for being ignorant.) The outcome of such a detrimental hold to religious dogma is damaging: at least 50% of homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT; youth suicide and depression rates are higher than any other state; addiction to drugs, alcohol abuse, and unsafe sexual practices are also higher in persons identifying as LGBT. This is a real problem, but learning to let go is the only way we as the LGBT community really can move on and grow. Fight for equal rights, but don’t let hatred eat us up because that will only keep us living in the past; we won’t need someone else to held us back because we’ll gladly do it ourselves.

One of my favorite movies is “Ben Hur.” It’s a fictional story about a Jewish man, Judah, that lived around the time of Christ. He was betrayed in a political move by a Roman (Messala) who used to be his friend in order to gain power. Messala banishes Judah to a life in the Roman navy and imprisons his mother and sister who are later released when they catch leprosy and destined to live their lives in sick camps. Judah lives his life vowing to get revenge. He eventually ends up killing Messala and still he can’t move on with his life.  He has a conversation with a woman (Esther) he at one time loved before he was eaten by hate. The dialogue follows as such:

Image Ben-HurEsther: Oh, Judah, rest. Sleep. For a few hours of the night, let your mind be at peace.

Judah Ben-Hur: [bitterly] Peace! Love and peace. Do you think I don’t long for them as you do? Where do you see them?

Esther: If you had heard this man from Nazareth…

Judah Ben-Hur: Balthasar’s word.

Esther: He is more than Balthasar’s word. His voice traveled with such a still purpose… It was more than a voice… a man more than a man! He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

Judah Ben-Hur: Children of God? In that dead valley where we left them? (his mother and sister) I tell you every man in Judea is unclean, and will *stay* unclean, until we’ve scoured off our bodies the crust and filth of being at the mercy of tyranny. No other life is possible except to wash this land clean!

Esther: In blood?

Judah Ben-Hur: Yes, in blood!

Esther: I know there is a law in life, that blood gets more blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death, as the vulture breeds the vulture! But the voice I heard today on the hill said, “Love your enemy. Do good to those who despitefully use you.”

Judah Ben-Hur: So all who are born in this land hereafter can suffer as we have done!

Esther: As you make us do now! Are we to bear nothing together? Even love?

Judah Ben-Hur: I can hardly draw breath without feeling you in my heart. Yet I know that everything I do from this moment will be as great a pain to you as you have ever suffered. It is better not to love me!

Esther: It was Judah Ben-Hur I loved. What has become of him? You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy, giving evil for evil! Hatred is turning you to stone. It is as though you had become Messala!

[Judah looks at Esther, shocked]

Esther: [sadly] I’ve lost you, Judah.

Fred Phelps’ hatred has left him with not much. Even his church he founded turned their backs on him when he was excommunicated as his son, Nathan, also testified to. For what reasons, I have no idea. Eventually hatred and bigotry destroys the person with the strong feelings while the rest of the world keeps going on its merry way. No matter the reason for justification, hate will always be hate and enmity will always be enmity.