Fred Phelps, the founder of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, died this past week. The National Catholic Reporter posted an article on Phelps’ history, which began in Topeka, Kansas, and then gained a national profile.
LGBT religious groups responded to his demise with compassion for the human sorrow that death brings and with calls to end the religiously-based anti-gay rhetoric that Phelps personified. On the CNN Religion Blog, Jim Smith, DignityUSA‘s Associate Director, had this to say:
“There is a sadness as deep as the Grand Canyon over the harm that he has unleashed in our country, a sadness that can’t be quantified. But that still doesn’t mean I delight in his death. I’d delight in the end of the Westboro [Baptist Church] mission.”
To Smith’s sentiments, we say, “Amen!”
Taking a different perspective was a Kansas Catholic Church official, who claimed that Phelps’ extremism harmed people who oppose marriage equality and other pro-LGBT issues. Jacksonville.com reported :
“Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said Phelps and his congregation still represent ‘an easy device’ for gay-marriage supporters to “short-circuit the conversation” on that and related issues in recent years.
” ‘People were justifiably, appropriately outraged by the things that they did,’ Schuttloffel said of Phelps and his church. ‘As soon as someone, then, is able to tar you as being related to them or thinking the same way as them, right away you’re starting behind the eight ball.’
So sad that Mr. Schuttloffel turned this occasion into a statement about marriage. So sad that a Catholic official does not recognize the pain and harm that Phleps caused so many.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry