RANGER AGAINST WAR: Kansas Preacher Man <

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kansas Preacher Man

He who is without sin among you,
let him be the first to throw a stone 
--John 8:7 

A half truth is a whole lie
--Yiddish proverb

 The evil that men do lives after them; 
the good is oft interred with their bones 
--Julius Ceasar (III, ii)

We don't know Rev. Fred Phelps from Adam, and do not hawk any particular dogma. But we are interested in the way media presents events.

In our outraged society, the death of Kansas preacher Fred Phelps must call for celebration -- a blot of medieval backwardness has been removed from the planet. Mr. Phelps gained infamy for his pronouncements that the United States' pro-homosexual stance was bringing the wrath of God down upon it, and his protests at military funerals gained him no love from that community of mourners.

A WaPo piece on his death even endeavored to take the high road by suggesting that imminent posts by Facebookers and Twitterers not dance on his grave, as that might be bad form. But what the Post failed to provide readers was a balanced obituary for this easy-to-dislike man, which would have provided real grist for such a request.

Missing was the momentous first half of this attorney-cum-preacher's life, in which he was one of the only private attorney's in early 1960's Kansas who would advocate for the civil rights of its black citizens, and he was successful in a big way. As a Christian, Phelps found racial bias unpalatable and against the word of God. All men are made in God's image; that's what his Good Book said. He could not brook their second-class status, and he moved against prejudice in a meaningful way.

You may call him a demogogue, but this was a man of action and not solely words who behaved in accordance with his beliefs. According to his moral guidebook, marriage was between men and women, and recent moves to force gay marriage in church were an an abomination. He didn't create his viewpoint, but was guided by the Christian rulebook, a book which has provided the foundation for many of our laws. Playing by those rules, his positions were consonant throughout his public life. 

Gay rights is the cause du jour -- the last frontier of the civil rights movement -- and this time, Phelps was on the wrong side of public opinion. Monster (on gay marriage) / savior (black civil rights). Demagogue / demigod. Like Ella Fitzgerald sang, " 'taint what you do, it's the way that you do it," and Phelps' approach was far from politic.

However, it is futility to expect the State to attempt to coerce the Church to believe otherwise on the gay marriage issue. Our Founders were wise enough to separate the two spheres. But separation does not imply smashing the institution. We are not Communistic, and those who would condemn religionists are as intolerant as those they would condemn. Live and let live is the ideal.

The whole truth of the man's life is complex, not so easily dismissed in a 120 character tweeted diatribe. Had the Post presented a complete obituary, they would have to forgo their saintliness, and we would have to forgo our desire for outrage and easily understood stories.

Complexities require thought.

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