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The Truth, Mainly - 06/10/2002

Politics makes strange bedfellows—and all that

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.

Apocalypse now.

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 Shepard.

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 unconscious—because 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 other—an 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 parking lots.

They yelled at me—because 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 Priests."

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?

Probably so.

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 him—even 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 orientation.

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 him—even though less than two years ago 75 percent of us voted to outlaw same-sex marriage.

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 address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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