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Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. protests outside the Broadway United Methodist Church Sunday, Nov. 22, 1998 in Chicago (Michael S. Green/AP)
Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. protests outside the Broadway United Methodist Church Sunday, Nov. 22, 1998 in Chicago (Michael S. Green/AP)

What's the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church's beef with dead country star George Jones? Add to ...

With all the trouble going on in the world today, does God really have time to hate a dead country star and a gay basketball player?

Of course he does, at least according to the ever-vigilant and forever inventive members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The tiny church in Topeka, Kan., has once again generated national news coverage by announcing its plans to picket the funeral of George Jones in Nashville. So much for resting in peace.

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Why pick on Jones? USA Today reports that the press release from Westboro refers to the Country Music Hall of Fame member as a “drunkard” and claims he “used his talent to glorify himself and engage in much adultery.” (Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the job description for any country-music performer).

The Westboro missive announced that the demonstration would begin 45 minutes before the funeral service scheduled to take place at the Grand Ole Opry House on Thursday morning. Why, that’s just enough time for the picketers to do TV interviews and wave their homemade placards at the celebrity attendees, which are supposed to include former U.S. first lady Laura Bush and country singers Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley (who, just as a reminder, is an Accidental Racist).

And this is turning into quite the busy week for the Westboro parishioners. The church has also made very public its plans to picket outside the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, where the hometown Thunder will face the Houston Rockets in an NBA playoff game.

The reason this time? The Westboro folks – primarily pastor Fred Phelps and his daughter Margie – believe homosexuality is an “abomination” and are apparently incensed by the recent announcement by NBA veteran Jason Collins that he is gay. Westboro recently sent out threatening messages to Collins and to Thunder forward Kevin Durant for his support of Collins.

Obviously, this isn’t the first time the church has made headlines with its intolerance activities. It has earned press coverage since 1991 when it sought a crackdown on alleged “homosexual activity” in a public park located six blocks from its church. Since then, the church has picketed the funeral of Michael Jackson and the funeral of Matthew Sheppard, a young man beaten to death because he was gay.

In 2011, Margie announced via Twitter that they was going to picket the funeral of Apple founder Steve Jobs and presumably missed the irony behind the fact that she used an iPhone to send the tweet. On multiple occasions, the church has stated the belief that Barack Obama is the Antichrist.

All of which keeps the Westboro name in the news, but how far can one church possibly go in spouting its extreme ideologies? With all due respect to freedom of speech and religious expression, the Westboro group has morphed into a hate group hiding behind the guise of a faith-based institution.

No doubt the bizarre and hateful dictums of pastor Fred and his daughter are eagerly absorbed by the Westboro flock, but does the rest of the world really need to hear them? There are literally hundreds of different religions in the North American religion rainbow – from snake handlers to Satan worshippers – but most of them have the courtesy to keep their personal beliefs private. When did a tiny church in a tiny cornfield become a public conduit for hate speech?

What do you think?

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