Westboro Baptist Church Loses, New York Wins

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I'm not a position to mock the many reporters who lined up to spend a few minutes with Margie Phelps and the four other unpleasant Westboro Baptist Church members who flew up from Kansas to spend their Sunday shouting slurs at same-sex New York couples.

After all, I spent hours with these attention-craving cultists, trailing them by train as they drove from Manhattan to Brooklyn to the Bronx and back to Manhattan. The trade for many reporters is that you give the church free press in exchange for a "shocking" bit of dialogue to drive ratings or traffic. After half an hour the group's tape had already began to loop, as members began recycling their meager store of stock quotes.

For those who aren't familiar with the church, whose double-digit membership consists mostly of the children and other relations of patriarch Fred Phelps, they believe end times are nigh owing to our un-Christian ways. To ensure their own salvation, members go to soldiers' funerals and other charged occasions like the first day of same-sex marriage in New York and scream and sing slurs while trampling the flag and rotating an array of aggressively obnoxious signs in the hopes of drawing media attention -- which they inevitably do.

As church members see it, the point of yelling at the damned (pretty much everyone but them) isn't to save us, but only to ensure we sinners have been warned so that our damnation won't be on their hands. It's nutty and not very consequential, though of course the groups the church targets sometimes have a tough time seeing it that way.

Talking to Margie Phelps, one of Fred's daughters and the most vocal by far of the New York contingent, she boasted about how the media spreads her message despite her open contempt for it. Reading the Voice, she said, "I just skim through with my finger looking for our words. I don't care how you encase them."

Church members, she continued, had mastery of "the press, and Twitter, and social media. We're skilled social marketers," she said, crediting God with that development. Throughout the conversation, she lapsed into media jargon, like "close the loop," alternating those thoughts with an almost random stream of vitriol.

"You want to control the dialogue," she told me apropos of nothing. "That's how fags are."

New Yorkers, though, didn't take the bait, and, in the finest American tradition, an act that a few years back seemed shocking came off as banal.

Standing for a few minutes between the church members and the couples they were screaming at in Manhattan early Sunday morning, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the GLBT-oriented Congregation Beit Simchat Torah said, "I wanted to create a block so our couples experience love this morning and don't have to absorb" the attacks.

"Our love is bigger than their hate," said the rabbi, whose shul was targeted by the church in 2009. The synagogue responded by raising funds, asking supporters to pledge a bit for every few minutes the demonstration went on. They pocketed $13,000 by the time Westboro was through screaming.

After a few minutes, Kleinbaum crossed the street to attend to the two couples in her flock getting married Sunday, away from the isolated holding pen where the NYPD had the group confined.

The cops assigned to watching them, and avert any potentially violent encounters, clearly weren't happy with the post. One laughed and said, "I wish I knew," when asked what superior she'd ticked off to draw the assignment. When they lacked police protection between rallies, the WBCers put away the upside-down flags they wore as rags, along with their signs and other most obvious markers and walked quietly, and very quickly, to their ride.

For much of Sunday, the WBC was trailed by a small coterie of anything but violent counter-protesters. They were followed throughout the day by a pair of young students, Chelsea Zane and Pike (he doesn't use a last name), religious young Southerners (she's Episcopalian, she's Baptist) who came to the city this year to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. That pair was joined in Brooklyn and Manhattan by a loose group of about eight people, some of them affiliated with Queer Rising, including "straight allies" Jeremiah & Melissa Kleckner, sporting "Not Today Fred" T-shirts. All told, the motley gang of counter-protesters outnumbered the church members by two-to-one.

"I've seen them around," Rev. Ann Kansfield, the co-pastor of the Greenfield Reformed Church said in Brooklyn later Sunday morning. She took care to note that "there are far more Baptists who disagree with them," and lamented the tiny group's co-opting of the doctrine's name.

"I try not to spend much time devoting myself to them," she added and then she too went back to the day's more pressing business.

hsiegel@villagevoice.com / @harrysiegel


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11 comments
Tria MacLeod
Tria MacLeod

For me, the most telling paragraph in this article is the one that states 'when without police protection, WBC quickly and quietly left'.  I think we have our answers right there. All we need is a two prong approach to be rid of them.

1] Stop paying/drawing attention to them. They feed off of your reactions.

2] If we don't react, the cops won't bother wasting their manpower on the situation.   WBC 'knows' very well what would happen to them without the police there to watch over them.  This is a heavily armed civilian population (USA in general) and the WBC tends to push some very raw emotional buttons, hoping to push someone to anger so they can be sued (Phelps are a family of lawyers and this is how they make their money) and also be 'martyrs' for their beliefs. 

Deprive them of both rewards.   Once they see the police won't show up to protect them from the 'unclean masses' they won't dare pull these stunts anymore.    Although a part of my mind does wonder what will happen once that old zombie Fred stops shuffling about.  Will the family still pull these antics or will many of them take their chance to escape the abuse they've had to face every day of their lives.

8811081
8811081

 

This isnot a church, this is a hate group. Westboro Baptist Church spreads its hatethrough picketing in our streets, provoking attacks, with abusive language andflag desecration, attempting to create a confrontation. This is not about protesting,freedom, or God. They are in it for the money and the press; this is a familylaw firm. They are not a "church." It is a scam. They go after anythingthat can get them in the news. This is a family of lawyers using this “godhates you” thing to make money. It is time for this scam to be over.

MaryWaterton
MaryWaterton

Jesus said that it would be like Sodom & Gomorrah in the Last Days before His return.

"Know this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." (2-Peter 3:3)

The homosexuals will enjoy their perversion for a period of time, but then

"The Son of Man (Jesus) shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do INIQUITY; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:41-42)

8811081
8811081

 

It is not a church, this is a hate group. Westboro BaptistChurch says they hate the Gay-Community. But, they also hate African Americans,Dr. & Mrs. King, Canada, Sweden, the Fire Department of N.Y., victims of911, other Christian churches, the pope, Judaism, America, our American troopsand the list goes on and on.

This group spreads its hate through picketing in our streets,provoking attacks, with abusive language and flag desecration, attempting tocreate a confrontation. This is not about protesting, freedom, or God. They arein it for the money and the press; this is a family law firm. They are not a"church." It is a scam. They go after any thing that can get them inthe news.

The city of Topeka, the state of Kansas and the U.S. at large,its citizens and their churches, schools and events are all held hostage bythis "hate group” and always at the tax payer's expense.

laura
laura

They all make me sick. So much hate in their hearts.... It's only a matter of time before they all self destruct.

Phoenix Lee
Phoenix Lee

best biblical scholars on the land  keep up the great work wbc

MollyB
MollyB

It's funny how this small group of people has been transformed into a force to be reckoned with by the constant churning out of articles like this one. All of five protesters were on hand for Westboro's spectacular anti-gay marriage rally--adrift in a city of millions of allegedly enlightened, intellectual free thinkers--and yet they still have such power over that city! 'Look at these hicks,' you can just hear all those New Yorkers say as they pass by. Yes, look at them: they are on what is supposed to be the losing side of a desperately lost cause, yet somehow the presence of these anti-gay campaigners can still whip people up into a shocked, self-righteous tizzy every time. Why is that? This is 2011; we're supposed to have made all this "progress"; what are we afraid of? A few mice? Or could it be that this group has the power to agitate precisely because deep down we all know that this progress rests largely on the apathy of the masses and a highly coordinated propaganda campaign? 

Brandt Hardin
Brandt Hardin

Whatare Fred Phelps and the WBC afraid of anyhow? Rainbows? Unicorns? A flamingpink queer apocalypse?  I attempted toaddress this with a portrait of the good reverend on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot...  Drop in and let me know what you think!

Scott Amundsen
Scott Amundsen

I'm with Jay.  These people never say anything new and the attention they get from the media every time they show up with their nasty little signs and their ugly little catchphrases is what they live for.  Time to stop feeding the trolls.

JayNewlin
JayNewlin

Hasn't the time come (and long passed) simply to ignore WBC and not to report on them? When they no longer gain media attention everywhere (or anywhere) that they go, they will quickly (although probably not quietly) disappear into a dark, painful memory in American history.

Walker275
Walker275

Sodom & Gomorrah doesn't have anything to do with homosexuality.Genesis 19:5 -- What does "ya,da" mean?"Yada, Yada, Yada" is a phrase popularized on the Jerry Seinfeld comedy show to imply sexual activity among unmarried persons. It may be related to the "ya,da' (know) which appears in Genesis 19:5.According to the King James Version of the Bible, Genesis 19:5 says: "And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them." (KJV) The New International Version translates the same verse without any ambiguity: "They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.' "Ya,da is a Hebrew verb which is commonly translated as "know." Its meaning is ambiguous. It appears 943 times elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Usually it means "to know a fact." In only about a dozen of these cases does it refers to sexual activity; in these instances, the sexual meaning is always obvious. The text generally talks about a man "knowing" a woman and of her conceiving a child as a result of the "knowing." All such references involve heterosexual relationships.It is not clear whether the mob wanted to:Gang rape the angels. This was a common technique by which men, particularly enemies,  were humiliated in that society.  Engage in consensual homosexual sex with the angels: This may the interpretation of the NIV translators. They wrote very clearly that the intent was to "have sex with them." People "having sex" with each other normally implies mutual consent. Interrogate them. They may have been concerned that the strangers were spies who were sent to the city to determine its defensive fortifications."Sodom was a tiny fortress in the barren wasteland south of the Dead Sea. The only strangers that the people of Sodom ever saw were enemy tribes who wanted to destroy and take over their valuable fortress and the trade routes that it protected." As noted above, the city had just recently survived just such an attack, and may have been on high alert. 2Attack them physically.Genesis 19:8 -- Lot's offer to have his daughters gang raped:From the context, it seems obvious that the mood of the mob was not friendly. In Genesis 19:7, Lot expected that the mob would engage in "wicked" behavior. Lot may have assessed that they had sex on their minds, because he offered his virgin daughters as an attempt to placate the mob. Some Christian interpreters maintain that all of the men in the city were present in the mob, and that all were homosexual. Lot would certainly have know of this, for he was a resident of the city. If they were all gay, then he would hardly have made a gift of his daughters to be raped; the mob would have had no sexual interest in women. Instead, he would have given the mob a gift of his two future sons-in-law. His daughters were both engaged to men from Sodom. In their culture, engagement was a binding arrangement, with many of the properties of marriage. It gave Lot authority over his future sons-in-law, much as he had control of his daughters. So he would have been able to sacrifice his daughters future husbands. But he didn't. Thus, we can conclude that most or all of the men of Sodom were not gay.Other indications that all of the men of Sodom were not gay are:Extensive biblical references which emphasize that one of the serious sins of Sodom was their neglect of orphans and widows. If all male "Sodomites" were gay then there would be few or no marriages and thus few or no widows and orphans. As mentioned above, Lot's daughters were engaged to two male residents of the city. If they were gay, they would have had no interest in marrying women.God was apparently not critical of Lot for offering his two daughters to be raped. If he were, he might have decided to not save Lot and his family.

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