It was a week ago yesterday and there was something ominous in the
Lincoln air: the unsettling sense of catastrophe moving in, of Heaven's
gates yawning open and a host of avenging angels being set loose upon us.
Okay, so I'm getting a little carried away. But I always start
talking that way when the Rev. Fred Phelps, spiritual leader of the
Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, gets within 100 miles of where I am.
He scares the living hell out of me. Which, I suppose, is what he
intends to do. Scare people out of hell by scaring hell out of people.
You know about Rev. Phelps, don't you? He's the preacher who took
some of his followers to Wyoming in 1998 for the funeral of Matthew
You know about Matthew Shepard, don't you? He's the 22-year-old
gay guy who was beaten up, tied to a fence post, and left there
unconsciousbecause he was gay. The guy who found him more than a day
later thought he was a scarecrow at first. Imagine that. And after a
few days in a hospital, he died.
The Phelps folks showed up to picket the church in Casper where
the funeral was held. They carried placards informing grieving friends
and grieving relatives that "God hates fags," that there are "No fags in
Heaven," and that "Matt is in Hell."
Rev. Phelps gives homophobia a bad name.
And last week he came to Lincoln to picket two churches, Christ
Methodist and St. Mark's-on-the-Campus Episcopal. He came because a week
earlier two gay guys committed themselves to each otheran awkward phrase
but we can't say "got married" because same-sex marriages are illegal in
Nebraska. The commitment ceremony was at St. Mark's and was presided over
by the wife of the minister at Christ Methodist.
So last Sunday, the Phelps forces were holding up signs saying
"God Hates Fags" and "Marriage Made in Hell" and lots of other things.
They were yelling religion at people parking their cars in the church
They yelled at mebecause I was among the many visitors attending
Christ Methodist. I rolled down my car window and yelled back. I
suggested they put their signs where the sun don't shine.
Or something like that. Maybe a little less witty.
The next day, I checked out Rev. Phelps' web site. It referred to
the two Lincoln churches as "Christ United Methodist Dog Kennel" and "St.
Mark's-on-the-Campus Episcopal Leper Colony." It said "God is not mocked!
God Hates Fags! God Hates Fag-Enablers!" It had drawings of picket signs
saying "Dogs Wed," "Methodist Fags," "Episcopal Fags," "Dyke Nuns," "Fag
The Truth, Mainly
I wiped off the computer screen with a cloth and a little Clorox.
Then I took a shower. Used lots of soap. Still felt dirty.
And I wondered, should I really write about Rev. Phelps? Wouldn't
it be better just to ignore him? Wouldn't writing about him give him the
publicity he wants?
But I'm writing about him anyway because I'm anti-homophobia. And
Rev. Phelps does indeed give homophobia a bad name. So he's a useful
tool. And I'm cynically devious.
I'll bet the vast majority are repelled by him.
I'll bet our Governor is repelled by himeven though our Governor
last year vetoed LB 215 because of a clause that would make it illegal for
realtors to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual
I'll bet that the Nebraska legislature is repelled by Rev. Phelps,
even though that legislature failed this spring to pass LB 19 which would
have outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
And I'll bet most Nebraska voters are also repelled by himeven
though less than two years ago 75 percent of us voted to outlaw same-sex
I know, I know. There's an unfair implication of guilt by
association here, and I need to acknowledge that politics makes strange
bedfellows and all that. I've found myself in bed politically (it's a
metaphor, Fred, it's a metaphor!) with a lot of unsavory types and it
always gives me the fantods.
So even though I favor, say, federalizing the pharmaceutical
industry, if I should read that my personal arch-villain, Richard Nixon,
had also favored federalizing the pharmaceutical industry, I might be
tempted to do some serious rethinking.
My point being that some political bedfellows are way too strange to
get into a political bed with.
(It's a metaphor, Fred, it's a metaphor!)
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail