Father Juan Brennan-Religion Editor
On Wednesday, March 19th, Fred Phelps, the infamous leader of Westboro Baptist Church, went “home” to meet his maker. though some may argue as to where exactly “home” ended up being, most would agree that if anyone ever needed mercy from God, it would indeed be Phelps.
Made up of mostly family members, Phelps started his little church in the 1950’s. In the 1990’s, the church started to gain attention when they began protests at the funerals of AIDS victims. They also held random protests against gays and lesbians, and eventually began picketing funerals of soldiers killed in combat. I personally encountered them twice. Once was outside the Mabee Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they were protesting of all things, the funeral of Oral Roberts. The first time I ran into them was outside a high school in Webb City, Missouri, where they came to rail against a high school student who claimed to be gay. I was involved in a counter-protest against them, but that is not the point of this article.
Most mainstream Christian denominations have spoken out against Westboro’s tactics, doing all that they can to create distance between them and Phelps’ congregation. In 2003, the Southern Baptist Convention went so far as to spend an entire session preparing a definite distinction between their opposition to same-sex unions and Westboro’s protests.
For as much harm as Phelps and Westboro may have brought to the legitimate congregations in America, they have inadvertently had quite the opposite effect on the LGBT community.
To suggest that Phelps and his Westboro hate squad may have actually helped the gay rights movement might seem to be an absurd assertion. However, when you look at the extreme measures Westboro took to de-humanize the LGBT community, many people who had no feelings one way or the other about the movement, suddenly took a side. The gay side. Whether you approve of the life-style or not, you suddenly saw human beings where once you simply saw a sexual orientation.
The degradation that Phelps and his followers poured out on gays caused many folks to take a stand to defend the LGBT community. In my 30 plus years of ministry, I have never witnessed the church reaching out in love to gay individuals like I have in the last few years. Even mainstream evangelical denominations have extended the love of Christ to this community, even though they did not endorse the lifestyle.
The tactics Phelps used caused many people who at one time saw gay people as deviant, to change their perspective and view them has human beings with human emotions. Phelps’ legacy, in regards to the LGBT community will continue to have the opposite outcome that he hoped for while breathing this planet’s oxygen for some time to come.
My hope is that the followers he left behind some day come to their senses.