How Fred Phelps helped the gay-rights movement

The late Fred Phelps with his Westboro Baptist Church, who picketed funerals of soldiers killed in action and proclaimed “God hates fags,” created such a negative impression of Christians who disapprove of homosexuality that he actually played a major role in advancing the cause of gay rights.  So say a number of gay activists and other observers.

From John Hanna & David Crary, Phelps’ Hate Seen By Some As Aiding Gay Rights :: EDGE Boston (Associated Press):

Fred Phelps Sr. led his small Topeka church for more than two decades in a bellicose crusade against gays and lesbians, saying they were worthy of death and openly declaring – often at military funerals – that the U.S. was doomed because of its tolerance of homosexuality.

But in targeting grieving families of troops killed overseas, taunting people entering other churches and carrying signs with anti-gay slurs and vulgar language or symbols, Phelps and his Westboro Baptist congregation created public circuses that may have helped the gay-rights movement.

Following Phelps’ death Wednesday at age 84, some gay-rights advocates suggested that he and his church created sympathy for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered. Religious leaders who oppose gay marriage also said the pastor’s tactics clouded the debate over such issues and put them on the defensive in discussing both policy and faith.

“The world lost someone who did a whole lot more for the LGBT community than we realize or understand,” said Cathy Renna, a longtime consultant to LGBT groups. “He has brought along allies who are horrified by the hate. So his legacy will be exactly the opposite of what he dreamed.” . . .

James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that he eventually saw Phelps’ protests as helping his own movement.

“He would show up with his extreme anti-gay views, and a bunch of people in the middle would think, `If that’s what it means to be anti-gay, I want no part of it,’” Esseks said.

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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