On Fred Phelps and the Westboro church

Cheryl Hawkes
Cheryl Hawkes

It is mortifying for many Christians that Fred Phelps defined himself as one, writes Cheryl Hawkes in her inaugural piece for Facts and Opinions:  a column about a man so filled with hate that his church’s web site is “godhatesfags.com.” Phelps’ death has given the people he hurt and offended a moral choice, Hawkes argues; while his cause deserves no more life-sustaining attention, the danger is from those who will follow. An excerpt:

Across the street from my home in downtown Toronto, there once lived a family in the biggest, grandest detached brick home on the block. Two lesbian mothers, one child each, fathered by the same gay man, a high school friend who lived nearby with his partner and the family dog. The men were involved parents and regular visitors, along with a passing parade of same-sex couples juggling strollers, baby seats and diaper bags, swapping tips on day care and swim classes. Each summer, the dads took the kids on a long canoe holiday. The mothers drove a Chrysler mini-van, which worked well for picking up lumber and bathroom fixtures at Home Depot, as the two busied themselves renovating the house. Every woman envies a neighbour who has a handy spouse. I was no different.

The whole scene was electrifyingly normal. The only discouraging word came from my cousin, an evangelical Christian who lived on the other side of the country. “I’d watch those two,” she said coldly, as I described my neighbours’ Brady Bunch existence. In her voice, I sensed more fear than hate. Fear, even terror, of anything different and beyond her own daily experience.

It was that same kind of fear, taken to its most hysterical level, that propelled Fred Phelps in his life’s work.

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