Clergy urges using ‘clean’ response to anti-gay group

Daily Tribune, Dec. 15, 2002
By: MICHAEL P. McCONNELL, Daily Tribune Staff

FERNDALE – When members of the gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church come here next week to picket churches, political and religious leaders hope to meet the protesters with quiet scorn and scrubbing supplies.

Members of the Oakland County chapter of the Green Party plan to use buckets filled with soapy water and brushes to scrub the sidewalks where the anti-gay pickets have stood after they leave.

The scouring is meant as a symbolic cleansing, said Bretton Jones, treasurer of the county’s Green Party chapter.

“We already have more than 30 volunteers,” said Jones, 22, of Clawson. “This is something that protest groups have done after Ku Klux Klan rallies in the past.”

Jones said he and others plan to put out fliers for more volunteers this week.

“We wanted to do something to demonstrate that it is not OK for this hate group to come to this area,” he said.

Ferndale church leaders and area gay-rights organizations are urging members not to counter protest the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., when he shows up with 10 to 15 of his relatives.

The pickets are expected to come to Ferndale on Saturday for two days before moving on to Detroit Dec. 23. Phelps’ group says Ferndale and its churches are too gay-friendly.

Phelps, 73, preaches a harsh brand of gay hatred and his group has organized about 20,000 protests in the last decade. They carry placards that espouse their message. “God Hates Fags” is a typical picket message.

The group seeks press coverage and routinely pickets gay funerals, thanking God for AIDS.

Phelps is a disbarred attorney and 11 of his 13 children are also lawyers. The group reportedly videotapes its demonstrations so it can sue any counter demonstrators who illegally attack or thwart them.

Ferndale church leaders plan to join Councilman Craig Covey, Jeff Montgomery of the Triangle Foundation and others for a news conference and general meeting sometime Thursday.

“Phelps is a hate merchant,” said the Rev. Dennis Paulson of the First United Methodist Church, one of those the pickets are targeting. “Nobody is going to come to our town and tell us who we have to hate. He has no moral authority to tell anybody anything.”

Paulson said Phelps is coming to Ferndale only to seek attention for himself.

“Even the Rev. Jerry Falwell has called Phelps a complete nut,” Paulson said.

Paulson’s church has already distributed thousands of feet of yellow tape similar to what police use at crime scenes. The tape is printed with the message: “Hate-Free Zone.”

More than 300 people attended a peace rally at First United Methodist Church last week and picked up the tape.

“The tape will go up at churches, homes and businesses as a passive message for Phelps and his people to go home,” Paulson said.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 18, 2002.
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