Anti-gay minister’s visit dismays local groups

Council to consider bill extending rightsThe Tennessean, Jan. 21, 2003
http://www.tennessean.com/
By ANNE PAINE

Pastor Fred Phelps is finding few friends here.

The anti-gay preacher from Topeka, Kan., plans to protest at tonight’s Metro Council meeting against a proposed Metro law that would outlaw discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual preference.

But even many of those who think the law is wrong look at Phelps askance. He has been labeled a hatemonger in cities where he has protested — his Web site is ” www.godhatesfags.com ” — and his reputation precedes him.

”We’re disappointed he’s going to be here,” said Kathy Lyon, assistant to Pastor Jerry Sutton of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Donelson. The church is trying to turn people out for tonight’s meeting to show their objections to the proposed law, but it doesn’t want any association with Phelps.

Richard Holloman, who runs the Sight Ministry, designed to help homosexuals change their sexual orientation, has a similar attitude.

”He does not represent Christianity,” Holloman said of Phelps. ”He’s a dangerous, extreme cult leader.”

It’s a dilemma, said Pastor L.H. Hardwick with Christ Church in south Nashville.

”We don’t want to be identified with any rabid, radical hate group that is out there spreading a message of hate and injustice,” Hardwick said.

”I’m very concerned that we express the love and mercy and grace of God toward all human beings, and we do it while upholding God’s standards of righteous living and behavior.”

He objects to the law because he says Scripture teaches against sex outside the boundaries of marriage between a man and woman.

Those who say the law is needed to stop gays and others from being denied housing and jobs because of their sexual orientation are taking advantage of Phelps’ presence.

A ”Phelps-a-thon” has been set up for supporters to pledge money for every minute Phelps protests here, with the funds going to Nashville CARES, an AIDS education and support service.

”We have had hundreds of responses,” said Sam Felker, a Nashville CARES board member. ”Reverend Phelps says AIDS is God’s plague on the gay community. That’s another reason we thought Nashville CARES was so appropriate for this Phelps-a-Thon.” Felker and his partner, Keith Little, began getting out the word among gay and straight backers on Thursday.

Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, has turned up with about a dozen followers toting anti-gay signs at thousands of events around the country, including the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual who died after being beaten in Wyoming.

Phelps, 73, laughed yesterday when told about the phone-a-thon. He said it’s been done elsewhere and helps bring more attention to his message. He says he is opposed to violence against homosexuals and just wants them to renounce ”their filthy ways” and be saved from eternal damnation.

”These kissy-poo preachers are sending them to hell with these lies,” said Phelps.

He has picketed Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell for being what he considers soft on gays.

Phelps, who has been featured in several publications, including as one of ”The 20 Most Fascinating Men in Politics” in George magazine in 1999, ascribes to the fire and brimstone view of old-time preachers.

A preacher from an early age, he got a law degree in the 1960s and won praise for work on civil rights cases, according to the book Culture Wars and Local Politics, by Kansas University professor of journalism Rick Musser. Phelps filed lawsuits over the poor education of blacks in Kansas.

He was later disbarred, accused, for one, of using the law to punish a court reporter who didn’t have a transcript ready for him when he wanted it. Several of his 13 children have law degrees today. It is generally family members who protest for or with him.

Blacks were ”viciously discriminated against” and had a valid civil rights case, but homosexuals don’t, Phelps said. Calling him a ”hatemonger,” as many people do, is just ”name calling and attacking the man,” he said. ”They don’t know any other way to defend their filthy ways.”

Related proposals going to council

Metro Council meets at 7 p.m. today at the Metro Courthouse for discussion and a possible final vote on a proposal to prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing on the grounds of sexual orientation or disability. Another bill, up for a preliminary vote, would specify that sexual orientation refers to homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals. It does not apply to religious institutions.

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