An Open Letter to Fred Phelps

Thank you, Rev. Phelps, for bringing me out of my writing slump. I’ve managed to slog through months of Kenneth Starr, Y2K scares, OLGA closures (see The Story of OLGA and Harry Fox), and plenty of personal challenges without adding so much as a sentence to this website, but hearing that you and your constituents plan to picket the funeral of Matthew Shepard broke me out of that silence.

Never mind that he was gay. Never mind that he was of small stature and ganged up on. Never mind that he was tied to a fence, pistol-whipped and left for dead in the freezing Wyoming night. Never mind that the entire state of Wyoming is suddenly forced to deal with a stigma of intolerance because of the actions of two idiots that happen to reside within its borders.

I only want to know one thing:

Where does a supposed man of God find justification in his soul to picket ANYONE’s funeral?

Funerals and memorial services are a time for the loved ones of the deceased to deal with the emotions and realities of their loss. I suspect that the emotions at the funeral of a hate crime victim would be even more strong than those at a “normal” funeral. This is not a time for anyone to grandstand and try to make a point about how “God hates fags.” In fact, it would seem to me that a true man of the Cloth would not focus on what God hates, but what God loves!

I am not gay, but I do not hate gays. I am not a Baptist, but I do not hate Baptists. When one dies, I do not seek to further my own causes by capitalizing on the attention paid to their death. When you die, I will not celebrate, despite the fact that I disagree bitterly with you about your actions in this matter. (I might speculate on whether you end up where you expect to be, though. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself much farther south — and much warmer — than you expect! I don’t think that being a preacher guarantees you a spot in heaven if you don’t uphold the position in a forthright manner.)

I guess what angers me most is that you intend to cheapen Matthew Shepard’s life and turn one of the most important moments in his parents’ lives into a circus sideshow, and you don’t have the right to do that.

Yes, you have the right to broadcast your propaganda on shortwave radio and over the Internet, just as I have the right to use the same media to disagree with you. But you do not have the right to tarnish his parents’ last memory of their son. You do not have the right to capitalize on the national media to push your ludicrous points. The Governor of Wyoming, Jim Geringer, has stated that he won’t let you interfere with the funeral proceedings. For all of our sakes, I hope that he doesn’t.

You might accuse me of the same grandstanding of which you are guilty: using Matthew Shepard’s cruel demise as a forum to make a point. Think that if you will. I would not be writing this if you hadn’t made your intentions clear.

At any rate, thank you for making me angry enough to sit down and write. May God have mercy on you.

Very Sincerely,

Stace Johnson

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