Reflections on Phelps’ Plans to Picket Shooting Victims’ Funerals
After the last few years of economic angst that we have all faced, it was nice to have a calm and peaceful holiday this year in my hometown: Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, the last few days have been tough for those of us from Tucson and, I assume, all Americans. The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shocked everyone. Not to mention the death of a Federal Judge my partner worked with years ago, the nine-year-old girl who was gunned down and the other victims who are either dead or trying to recover in Tucson hospitals.
Well, I assume all of this came as a shock to everyone, but the truth is that most of us probably thought something like this was inevitable in light of the current political discourse.
What is truly shocking, however, is the story reported here on EDGE today. Fred Phelps and the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church have their eyes on Tucson, Arizona. They plan to travel to Tucson to protest at the funeral of the nine-year-old girl.
Phelps' followers believe that the "modern militant homosexual movement" poses a clear and present danger to the survival of America-evident in their most recent flyer posted on the WBC's "God Hates Fags" website: "THANK GOD FOR THE SHOOTER -- 6 DEAD!"
The flier claims that: "Your federal judge is dead and your (fag-promoting, baby-killing, proud-sinner) Congresswoman fights for her life. God is avenging Himself on this rebellious house! WBC prays for your destruction--more shooters, more dead carcasses piling up, young, old, leader and commoner--all. Your doom is upon you!"
Phelps gained national notoriety in 1998 when he picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming. Since 1991, WBC has conducted over 44,901 such demonstrations, at homosexual parades and other events, including over 400 military funerals of troops whom Phelps believes "God has killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in righteous judgment against an evil nation."
Phelps describes himself as an "old-time" gospel preacher who says, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."
Phelps' vitriolic tones seem to speak to the bitter words and blistering comments that have been coming out of religious right and "Tea Party" movement during the recent round of elections. It all makes one very pessimistic about where we're headed as a society. But when all seems hopeless, good appears.
For one, the people of Tucson turned out in large numbers to show support for the victims of this tragedy. Then, a great story emerged about the heroic actions of Daniel Hernandez, an openly gay intern for Representative Giffords. Hernandez had only been with Giffords' office for five days, but when she was shot, he was there and was instrumental in helping protect the Congresswoman from further violence and comforted her while the paramedics were on their way.
Congresswoman Giffords is reported to be stable and doctors are optimistic that she will survive. That is good news. But can Americans learn from this and ratchet down the vitriol? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime I cling to stories like those of Daniel Hernandez.