By Ben Edward Akerley
The notoriously rabid anti-gay Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., runs the website godhatesfags.com. Phelps picketed the Matthew Shepard funeral with a sign he proud1y displayed: fags burn in hell. He especially wanted to convey the biblical message that not only did the young gay college student deserve the execution-style murder he got, but he also deserves to suffer eternal punishment and damnation in the unquenchable fires of Hell.
In the fall of 2003, Phelps petitioned to erect a monument in the Casper (Wyo.) City Park with this inscription:
"Matthew Shepard entered Hell on 10/12/98 at age 21 in defiance of God's warning in Lev. 18:22."
Predictably, the Casper city council members had the good sense to summarily and unanimously reject the request.
As much as I deplore his methods, I do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of Phelps' motives: this devout, overzealous evangelist has a mandate from God Almighty to carry out his campaign of vitriol. Not long after Phelps launched his website, ever-vigilant and alert gay activists wasted no time in mounting their own counter-website: godlovesfags.com.
The real danger that this septuagenarian pastor poses is that although many dismiss him as being on the fanatical and extreme lunatic fringe, his radical antics make Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others of their ilk, who are only marginally less homophobic, seem like real moderates by comparison.
Phelps buttresses his rantings by focusing on four bible verses which condemn gay sex. The texts are evenly divided between two from Leviticus in the Old Testament and two from Paul's epistles in the New Testament.
The two Leviticus passages (Lev. 18:22, 20:13) refer to the "abomination" of mankind lying with mankind as with womankind and decree death for all offenders.
In Paul's writings, he takes a more egalitarian approach in Romans 1, where he demonizes both men and women who do that which is "against Nature." This severe denunciation found its way into nearly all our statute books as the "unspeakable crime against Nature" and eventually led to calling gay sex "the love that dare not speak its name," surely the longest euphemism in the English language.
In Paul's epistle to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 6:9-10), he makes explicitly clear his conviction that gays are among those whose perversity in following a hedonistic life makes their salvation quite hopeless and that they will be permanently excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven.
In June of 2003, the gay community of Saskatoon, Canada, prepared to celebrate their annual Gay Pride Week culminating in the Gay Pride Parade. On this occasion, an evangelical Christian, Hugh Owens, placed a display ad in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper citing the four anti-gay bible quotes, followed by an equal sign and a drawing of two men holding hands overlaid with the interdit or universal nullification sign:
Three gay men who adamantly refused to allow this self-righteous Christian to rain on their pride parade sued both Owens and the newspaper, alleging that using those bible verses in that context constituted hate speech. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission agreed with the three litigants completely and ordered both the paper and Owens to pay a fine of $1,500 to each of the three plaintiffs.
As a result of that landmark ruling in the conservative province of Saskatchewan, Bill C-250 is on the brink of becoming national law in Canada. It will add "sexual orientation" to the Canadian hate propaganda law, making public criticism of homosexuality a crime. Bill C-250 is being referred to as the "Bible as Hate Literature" bill and more humorously as the "chill bill."
Canada's breakthrough C-250 bill is being reflected in other countries as well. In Sweden, sermons are explicitly covered by an anti-hate-speech law passed specifically to protect gays. The Swedish chancellor of justice said any reference to the bible stating that homosexuality is sinful might be a criminal offense, and one Pentecostal minister is already facing charges.
In the UK, police recently investigated Anglican Bishop Peter Forster of Chester after he told a local paper: "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves." Police sent a copy of his remarks to prosecutors, but the case was dropped. Nevertheless, it portends an encouraging global trend of long-overdue comeuppance for religiously-motivated homophobes.
In Ireland last year, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that clergy who circulated a Vatican statement opposing gay marriages could face prosecution under incitement-to-hatred legislation.
In today's climate of rampant homophobia, is it any wonder that although gay teens comprise no more than 10% of the overall adolescent population, nearly one-third of teen suicides are gay kids? Since abhorrence can and does beget violence, hate-spewing evangelicals deserve a large part of the credit for the meteoric rise in gay-bashings and murders despite their hypocritical and disingenuous protestations that "God hates the sin but loves the sinner."
Fortunately, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) serves as an increasingly visible antidote to the venomous anti-gay rhetoric of Religious Right radicals. With chapters in hundreds of U.S. communities and many foreign countries, their mission is to educate and lobby for acceptance and celebration of diversity. And, in a wonderfully ironic twist on the pious platitudes of fundamentalist religious bigots, PFLAG has adopted this challenging motto: "Hate is not a family value."
Ben Akerley is a Foundation member from California and author of The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures. He is also a member of PFLAG and of GALAH (Gay and Lesbian Atheists/Humanists).