Linda loves The New Yorker more than many things in life. This week’s post is about her reaction to a recent profile article. ENJOY!
A recent article in the New Yorker magazine tells the story of a beautiful young woman, Megan Phelps-Roper, who would hold signs that said “God Hates Fags” even at a very young age. A member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which taught a strict Calvinist religion focusing on a supposed literal reading of the Bible, she believed she was doing the Lord’s work. The Westboro Church was founded by her grandfather, Fred Phelps, who seemed to focus on homosexuality, using it as the lens with which to view the downfall of America, although Jews came in for bashing as well.
Just when I think society is getting more inclusive I read something like this. I have heard of the Westboro Church before, particularly when they picketed the funeral of servicemen who died in battle with these “God Hates Fags” signs. They believed these deaths were God’s retribution for America’s embrace of homosexuality. (Really?) One sign said “Thank God for IEDS.” A father of a Marine killed in battle sued Westboro and they incurred a multi-million dollar judgment. The extent of their supposed Biblically inspired hatred really came home to me in this article.
Luckily this sensitive young woman began to engage with the outside world through social media platforms like Twitter. Luckily some correspondents tried to engage her, to dialogue with her and to lead her to question these beliefs. But leaving the church meant leaving her family.
Any wavering in this church means punishment, means exile. Even the fire and brimstone founder, Fred Phelps, made the mistake of saying the folks in the Equality House across the street, made up of LGBT activists, “were good people” which earned him excommunication before he died
Not only gays and Jews were targeted, but women as well, not surprisingly I guess. Shirley, Megan’s mother, an ardent and fierce spokesperson for the church for many years was disciplined for being too forward. She was the public face of the Westboro Church, giving interviews to publicize their odious views. She is a lawyer working in the family’s law firm from their compound in Topeka, Kansas. But the (male) elders thought a woman should not be the public face of the church. She was told to keep quiet, stop giving interviews, and leave that work to the male elders. Such public speech was not women’s work according to them. To me this action reveals how close misogyny and homophobia are connected. Anyone who threatens the patriarchal control of religion must be disciplined.
It is not much different in my own Catholic Church. The hierarchy does philosophical dances to explain how women express their “special charism” in the Church, while disallowing them any real roles of leadership. A male priesthood enshrined in Canon Law affirms lack of equality. Women are so inferior they cannot celebrate the sacred rite of the Eucharist. Their hands cannot bless the wine and bread much less elect a pope.
Though many priests are alleged to be gay, the official line is that gay sex is sinful. In fact gay men are now counseled out of seminaries. They too are not supposed to become priests. But of course this is harder to police than the blanket rule on women. The disgraceful pedophilia crises was fueled in part by the Church’s own myopia regarding the sexual development of male priests.
It seems like the Westboro Baptist Church, the Catholic Church also views women and gays with a jaundiced eye. Pope Benedict’s famous put-down, that homosexuality is “gravely disordered,” sounds suspiciously close to “God hates fags” to me.