When Fred comes to town

FredphelpsThe Washington Post has published a follow-up to its two-article series on Michael Shackelford, a gay teenager living in the very red locale of Sand Springs, eight miles west of Tulsa. When the Post concluded its second article on Sept. 26, Shackelford had decided he would feel more at home by joining his older sister in Las Vegas.

The Post‘s update highlights one hell of a curveball: young Shackelford has become the latest target of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, godhatesfags.com and godhatesamerica.com troika. A visit from the Phelps clan, as Samuel Johnson once said of the gallows, concentrates the mind wonderfully — in this case, the mind of Cornerstone Church, which Shackelford attends with his mother, Janice.

Series author Anne Hull describes how pastor Bill Eubanks prepared after he saw a fax announcing the Phelps crew’s intentions to protest at Cornerstone for welcoming Shackelford as a worshiper:

The week before the protest, the pastor announced from the pulpit that they were in the midst of a spiritual battle. He read parts of the flier aloud. “We are family,” Eubanks said. “We are going to stand united as a family.”

The response surprised Michael, who thought he would be cast out. People were being nice to him. Only a few weeks earlier he’d been called a “queer” at Arby’s. Now there was a new menace in Sand Springs, and it was Fred Phelps.

Hull describes the scene inside the church on the day of the Phelps protest:

“There is darkness and there is light and we are in the middle of the light,” Eubanks said, to more thunderous applause. “Say it: God loves us all. All of us!”

After the service, several people came up to hug Janice. One woman held her in an embrace that lasted two minutes, whispering to Janice the whole time.

A burly man with a crew cut gave Michael a thumbs-up. “Man, you be who you are,” Shannon Watie said, holding his Bible. “We got your back.”

Watie later said that he respected Michael for having the courage to come out. “I have the sin of pride, the sin of lying sometimes,” said the 37-year-old father of two. “The reason why Jesus was on the cross was because we all do.”

Watie voted for Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. Civil unions? He might have considered those. Homosexuality? “That’s between the person and God,” Watie said.

Out in the foyer, Eubanks saw Michael and seized the chance. He invited Michael to lunch. There was work to do.

Hull has written a subtle story. The members of Cornerstone Church will not be sympathetic characters for many gay or gay-friendly readers — I can already envision the comments on this blog condemning their views as heterosexist or homophobic. But it would take an awfully stubborn reading of Hull’s work to insist that they’re not showing love, as best they know how, for Michael Shackelford.

[Director Steve Drain offers an offbeat portrait of Phelps and his family in his film called Hatemongers. For much of the film, members of the Phelps family speak for themselves. One of the funniest moments (RealAudio clip) is when Phelps revels in making George magazine's list of "The 20 Most Fascinating Men in Politics." Phelps crows that, at No. 5, he outranked Geraldo Rivera and Larry Flynt: "Look at old Geraldo at No. 16. See, he ain't nothing -- 16."]

Print Friendly

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    One thing that’s bothered me with this entire series is the portrayal of Sand Springs as “rural Oklahoma.” It’s not. It’s a suburb of Tulsa.

  • http://www.relapsedcatholic.blogspot.com Kathy Shaidle

    Phelps is a disgrace to the Body of Christ. I know Jesus loves even him, but I sure don’t. Does Phelps really believe he’ll be getting a “Well done, good and faithful servant” when he finally passes on? That’s the saddest part.

  • Molly

    “The members of Cornerstone Church will not be sympathetic characters for many gay or gay-friendly readers — I can already envision the comments on this blog condemning their views as heterosexist or homophobic.”

    Is that what you were hoping for? I think you protest too much! The congregation to my understanding of the story revealed itself as the church at its best. Thanks for the links!

  • Marie

    “The members of Cornerstone Church will not be sympathetic characters for many gay or gay-friendly readers — I can already envision the comments on this blog condemning their views as heterosexist or homophobic.”

    I read the entire series in the Post — including the recent update — and looked in vain for an acknowledgment that one can believe that homosexual behavior is seriously sinful without also believing that homosexuals have “chosen” same-sex attraction.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    I’m not hoping for accusations of heterosexism or homophobia. I’m simply anticipating them, and I could not be more delighted if I am wrong.

  • Alison

    If you read enough about Fred Phelps, you will realize that he is just a crazy old man looking for someone to hate and homosexuality is a good target. He has some other pretty crazy notions, too. Not all of his attention is focused on gays. It’s just a shame that he gets so much media attention and that it took so long for Christian leaders to start speaking out against his ideas.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Douglas: I think this is an excellent story by Hull, and shows some real diversity of opinion among Christians, from “God Hates Fags” contingent on the far right, to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” conservatives on the near right, to the Tulsa Unitarians and Interfaith Alliance on the left. As for the Cornerstone Church showing love to Michael as best they know how, of that there can be no doubt. Nor can there be doubt that their theology is heterosexist, a fault which taints their love with a message to Michael that God made him defective and inferior to heterosexuals. But nobody’s perfect. Far be it from me to suggest to Michael that he should not strive to “hate the heterosexism, love the heterosexual supremacist.”

  • Mark D.

    I attended the recent Billy Graham crusade at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City last month. Phelps and his crew were out in force with signs that actually depicted anal sex in cartoon, as well as placards denouncing Graham himself. Billy Graham, for all love! It was vulgar, it was disgusting, it was palpably, plainly wrong in anyone’s eyes, especially perhaps the Lord’s.

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    “A fault which taints their love with a message to Michael that God made him defective and inferior to heterosexuals”

    All bible-thumpers worth their salt believe God made all of us defective and inferior for one reason or another. There is no one righteous not even one… All have fallen short of the glory of God… The idea that this is a unique outlook specifically directed at gays is a crock. Thats the whole point of Watie’s “I have the sin of pride, the sin of lying sometimes” quote.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Well said, Joe.

    Molly, I rest my case.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    Doug: I didn’t want to disappoint you. ;-)

  • http://www.moronikos.com/wordpress joseph
  • dan

    This is such a simple issue, yet folks make it so needlessly complicated.

    Unrepentant sinners who revel in their sin and teach others to do the same are akin to false prophets and should be dis-fellowshiped. They’re no better than the hypocritical Pharisee.

    Repentent sinners who acknowledge their sin and struggle for holiness with the Lord’s help are, well, acceptable to God…

    Luke 18:9-14

    What else is there to say?

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/ Darrell Grizzle

    The folks at Cornerstone Church have decided to stand with their theology and also to stand with their member who is under attack. I disagree with their theology, but I applaud their decision to “stand united as a family.” I have known people in my own life, unfortunately, who are not able to take such a stand.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X