Friday, March 10, 2006

Silencing Hate

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
~ I John 4:20,21 (NKJV)

“Hate destroys the vessel it’s kept in.”
~ Author Unknown

When I see the so-called “Reverend” Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, and his band of followers picketing the funerals of soldiers and/or gay men across this country (all in the name of God), I become enraged. This man is hate personified.

The Phelps clan recently traveled to Dodge City, Kansas, to wreak havoc on the funeral of Army Sgt. Jesse Davila who was tragically killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq on February 20, 2006. Holding signs saying “God Hates Your Tears” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” the Phelpses promoted their hate-filled message while the family and friends of Sgt. Davila gathered to mourn his loss.

Although Keen and I are firm believers in freedom of speech, we also recognize that it is a double-edged sword. The same freedoms that give us the right to speak out against the picketers, also give them the right to espouse their despicable views. We cannot decide which views will be tolerated and which will not, because this great country we live in is not only free, it is diverse. There are Christians and atheists; those who support the war and those who oppose it. There are individuals who staunchly lobby for abortion rights at all stages of pregnancy, and those who seek to ban it all together. There are those who believe in equality for all, and those who express extreme hatred toward various minority groups. But the fact remains that we are all Americans, and as such we possess certain inalienable rights – first and foremost, the right to vigorously support the views we hold dear.

In spite of the fact that I cherish freedom and wholeheartedly believe all of the above to be true, I still find myself wondering if there couldn’t be some exception made for people like the Phelpses. In fact, last year when I read that the Phelpses planned to rent advertising space at the newly-constructed Hummer Sports Park in Topeka, I placed a call to Paul McMasters, the First Amendment ombudsman for The Freedom Forum ( After explaining how hateful the Phelps's messages were, Mr. McMasters responded by saying that the answer to offensive speech is more speech – not less speech. In other words, we have to fight speech with speech. He went on to say that people such as the Phelpses are like schoolyard bullies who get away with hurtful tactics because nobody has the courage to stand up to them.

Well, that was not exactly what I wanted to hear; it’s not exactly what any of us want to hear, because it requires something from us,and we just want it to stop - we don’t want to have to get involved. Although I believe most Kansans are embarrassed by the Phelps’ family and their abhorrent conduct, we feel helpless to do anything about it. The protesters and their gaudy neon signs are everywhere – and they seem to have a boundless amount of energy for picketing any time, any place, in any kind of weather. Although they claim to be Christians, the Phelps family members have been known to hurl vile, disgusting insults at anyone who dares to confront them.

In a March 7, 2006, article about the Phelps’s decision to picket Sgt. Davila’s funeral (published on CNN's web site), CNN reporter Ed Lavandera quoted family patriarch Fred Phelps as saying: “You can’t preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God.”

He couldn’t be more off-base.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you . . . have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!"
~ Matthew 23:15, 23,24 (RSV)

Shockingly, Mr. Phelps was also quoted as saying: “Every time a soldier gets blown to smithereens, we rejoice.”

How sick is that?

Getting back to what Paul McMasters said about answering speech with speech, there is a valiant group of volunteer motorcyclists known as the “Patriot Guard Riders” who have undertaken the task of doing just that. About 400 riders gathered in Dodge City last Saturday to line the streets and block the protesters – drowning out their hateful chants during the funeral procession.

The article further reported that Sgt. Davila’s mother, Linda Claus, was very grateful to the Patriot Guard Riders. "When people begin to know what they're (Fred Phelps's family) really doing -- killing the American Dream -- they won't be around very long, because nobody's going to let them. They'll drown them out. They'll be gone." Claus said.

Famed African-American photographer Gordon Parks, who sadly passed away last week, left an inspirational legacy for us all. A recent tribute published in The Manhattan Mercury reported that when Mr. Parks was once asked what propelled his life and work, he replied, “I wouldn’t let bigotry stand in my way.”

By the grace of God, neither will I. Neither should any of us.

“And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” ~ I John 4:21 (NKJV)