The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 28, 1998 · Page 3
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 3

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Thursday, May 28, 1998
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THE SALINA JOURNAL GREAT PLAINS THURSDAY, MAY 28, 1998 A3 Phelps / Homosexuals target of picketers FROM PAGE A1 He said he did not enjoy confrontation but defended his aggressive style by quoting Isaiah 58:1. ' "It says cry aloud and spare not. Lift .your voice to trumpet and show people ' their transgressions," he said. "Show means to get in their face. It needs to be crystal clear that they are living in a soul-damning nation that is being destroyed by sin." Despite being physically attacked, threatened, almost run over by a.vehi- cle" and sprayed with Mace, Phelps said she has never been physically afraid. ' Phelps' group has had more than 100 Charges filed against them in Topeka •municipal court, but he said efforts to thwart him were a "powerful testimony of effectiveness of what we are doing." He said the confrontations and the hate expressed to him are proof that he is doing God's work as other Biblical prophets were hated and persecuted. I "It is evidence of the effectiveness of Avhat I am doing," he said. "By nature I am a friendly, gregarious guy." Politics another pulpit Phelps has run for Topeka mayor and U.S. senator and is running for the Democratic nomination for governor for the third time. His most successful campaign was in 1992 when he ran against Gloria O'Dell for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate and received 50,000 votes, he said. O'Dell lost in the general election to incumbent Republican Bob Dole. J Phelps said he views politics as another means of promoting his message. . "I think a preacher has to take advantage of every opportunity to preach," Phelps said. "A political campaign is a bully pulpit." The Bible tells me so Bud Buser, a retired Topeka telephone worker, said he supports Phelps' crusade against homosexuals and especially his efforts to discourage homosexual activity in Topeka's Gage Park. "He puts out the truth. Say anything you want to about him. I'll defend him," he said of Phelps. Buser, who is Catholic, has never picketed with Phelps but says he thinks the Bible supports Phelps' anti-gay message. He called homosexuality a filthy, detestable lifestyle and said homosexuals are predators who take advantage of children. "Homosexuality is against Kansas law and God's law," he said. Buser's 15-year-old son was pushed against a wall in the park by a man who •demanded oral sex. The man exposed •Simself to the boy before the boy was able to escape. Souheil Ibrahim, a retired educator living in Topeka, said he supported Phelps' biblical message but not his style, which he found antagonizing. Ibrahim, who is Catholic, says he believes homosexuality is unnatural and a sin. He said he has tried to persuade homosexuals to give up their lifestyles but has gone about it in a more gentle manner. Ibrahim marched with Phelps at a gay rights parade in Washington, D.C., at which Phelps was sprayed with Mace. "I admire him," Ibrahim said. "Not all people would go out and sacrifice and deliver his message. He puts himself in a lot of danger." Ibrahim said Phelps was sincere about his ministry and thought he was called by the Lord to deliver his message. 'Jesus Loves Me' As Salinan Kristophe Morris walked T UNITED METHODIST CONFERENCE "MY MISSION SCRIPTURAL HOLINESS -1766 The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. (foreground) and his followers brought their pickets to Salina in 1991. Journal file photo in the gay pride parade in Topeka last year, he and others were confronted by Phelps' group carrying signs and singing what he thought was gospel music. Morris' group began singing "Jesus Loves Me." As they approached the protesters, Morris realized the protesters were singing the same song, but had replaced the original refrain with "Jesus hates fags." "My personal reaction is one of laughter because he is so ridiculous. He doesn't hurt me," Morris said. Morris, who is pursuing a modeling career in Connecticut, organized Hu- manAdv, a gay rights group. Morris, 19, says he finds Phelps pathetic. He said the Bible verse, Leviticus 18:22, that Phelps often uses as a justification of his actions refers to male rape and not consentual sex between men. The verse reads, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." Morris said he is not surprised by Phelps' use of the Bible as a weapon. "The whites used the Bible against blacks, and blacks used it to fight oppression," he said. "The Bible has always been used to oppress and to alleviate oppression." When Phelps was a lawyer, he repeatedly defended blacks in civil rights cases and was honored with awards for his civil rights work. Churches targeted John Martin, pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church, which is the host to the Methodist conference this week in Salina that Phelps plans to picket, said he did not know why Phelps had chosen to protest the event. «, He said he did not think Phelps' presence would have any affect on the conference. "If he shows up, I will be nice to him. He has a right to his opinion. I do not think he will affect the community," he said. Martin said he disagreed with Phelps' interpretations of the Bible and his assertion that God hates homosexuals. Phelps was raised as a Methodist in Mississippi and said he first felt the calling to preach at a Methodist revival in 1946. The church, he said, has departed from the faith by advocating the homosexual agenda. "Whenever an important segment of the society adopts the militant homosexual agenda, those events get our attention," Phelps said of the planned protest of the Methodists in Salina. Jo Reed, a member of the Salina Christ Cathedral Episcopal Church, attended a women's conference Phelps targeted in Salina in 1993. Conference participants stayed inside the church so they would not have to be exposed to Phelps' ugliness, Reed said. "We did not give him the pleasure of knowing he affected us in any way," she said. Reed called Phelps' methods cruel, sadistic, and merciless and said he is ineffective because he is "so weird and irrational." St. David's Episcopal Church in Topeka has been fighting Phelps almost from the beginning of his crusade. Some members, who were wearing church T-shirts, attended an anti-Phelps event in Gage Park early in Phelps' movement. The church has never openly advocated homosexuality, church attorney and church member Jerry Palmer said. What people do in their bedrooms has been a matter of privacy in the church, he said. That didn't matter to Phelps who labeled the church as a "fag church." "If Fred Phelps doesn't like someone, then you are a fag," Palmer said. Phelps' group started by protesting church services and then broadened to picketing weddings and funerals, Palmer said. "It is hard to ignore them when they are in your face. The are a real problem when they are close enough to be physi- cally intimidating," he said. The church lost members because some people did not want to deal with the picketers, Palmer said. Church members first tried to occupy the space the picketers were using, which after nine months almost resulted in a physical brawl, Palmer said. That tactic was abandoned for legal means. The church filed for an injunction, which Phelps' group fought to the U.S. Supreme Court. Phelps still pickets the church, but the injunction granted to the church and a Topeka ordinance places time and distance restrictions on church picketing. "It is a group of hateful people and their only satisfaction of life is to do public displays of hatred," Palmer said. "Most people want to be liked. They don't." Funeral pickets The bulk of Phelps' protests have been in Topeka, but he and his groups have traveled throughout the nation. The group also traveled to Baghdad earlier this year to protest U.S. policy against Iraq. One of his more memorable protests in Salina was at the funeral of Presbyterian minister Bob Lay in 1994. Lay, who died of a heart attack, was targeted because he married a gay couple in January 1993. Salinan Bev Cole attended the funeral and said the community's handling of Phelps' protest was wonderful. Funeral- goers generally ignored the picketers, but one of Lay's sons ventured into the blustery weather to take coffee to the picket line before the funeral, Cole said. Cole has a son who is gay and coordinates a support group in Salina for the families of friends of people who are gay. "It is best to ignore him and to be nice to him," she said. "It is hard to bite your tongue, but it is best to not stoop to his level." Phelps' practice of picketing funerals prompted the Legislature to pass a statue restricting picketing immediately be- fore and after funerals. ;> Because grieving family and friends;.! are focused on mortality, heaven, hell and eternity, funerals are a "perfect j. time" to spread his message, Phelps ;; writes on his Web site. ; Phelps threatened to picket the funeral of Tyler Roberts, a Salina radio disc jockey who died of AIDS in March 1996. "Everyone who gets AIDS gets it as a direct result of God's will (including babies and people who get it from blood transfusions), and He should be blessed for it," Phelps writes on his Web page. Roberts' widow, Kelly Nelson-Roberts, who contracted HIV from.her husband, said she was furious Phelps would con-, sider picketing the funeral of a man he , didn't even know. "It makes me sick to my stomach that he would have the nerve to picket any- <• one's funeral," she said. "He wants to • spread a message of hate. That he would do that at a funeral is a real good indicator of who he is." "I know where my husband's soul is going, and I know where Phelps' is go- : ing, and it is not the same place." . Nelson-Roberts said she thought the best way to deal with Phelps' protests .' was to ignore him. "All communities need to collectively, say we are not going to buy into that crap and not give him the satisfaction of showing up," she said. Regardless of a community's response to Phelps' protests, his message leaves an indelible scar on the communities he touches. Nelson-Roberts spends much of her AIDS education efforts trying to reverse the misconception and fear spread by people like Phelps. "I am so tired of AIDS being a moral issue. It never was. HIV could care less' if you are rich, poor, gay, straight, black or white," she said. "Humans have what the virus needs." Topekans rally against Phelps Concerned Citizens for Topeka is a group formed two years ago to fight hate, including Phelps' efforts. The group has more than 600 members. The group has offered free legal services to defend those who have been sued by Phelps' family and has provided support of city governments actions to . counteract Phelps' activities. "It is a very debilitating experience to have to legally defend your objection to the objectionable," said Roy Menninger, board president. "It keeps a lot of people quiet." Menninger said the pickets have upset Topekans, caused Topeka national embarrassment, hurt the performing arts . center, which Phelps regularly targets,. and mobilized fear in the community. "He knows how to use the First Amendment without being libelous. He successfully skirts the edge of what is legally protected, but it is socially outrageous," Menninger said. Menninger said there is a good chance Phelps will not show up to picket, especially if residents show outrage. However, individuals can do little to fight Phelps, Menninger said. The city commission or the police chief could limit Phelps' effectiveness by designating a place for the Phelps' group to picket on the grounds of protecting, the public safety, Menninger said. Menninger said he thought the remedy to Phelps is education and promotion of rational discussion of homosexuality. He said Phelps is effective because he appeals to the covert bigotry in society. "There are those who say they don't like Phelps, but privately they agree with his message," Menninger said. Speaker: Rural churches in difficult times Churches are having trouble keeping pastors and attracting members By DAN ENGLAND The Salina Journal Mel West calls them hinge times. Times when there were dramatic changes in the world or at least a part of it. Times that have brought out the best in churches. Times that churches in rural areas are facing now. West works as a volunteer field representative for the United Methodist Rural Fellowship that provides services for the 25,000 rural United Methodist churches in the United States. He spoke Wednesday at the United Methodist Church's Kansas West Conference at the Bicentennial Center. Rural churches are having a difficult time forming relationships •with their pastors, keeping their pastors and attracting new membership, West said. The reasons for that include the rising cost of pastoral salaries and benefits, the established order of many rural churches and the location of many of the rural church- es, he said. West considers rural areas to be cities of 50,000 or less. "When they get these new people moving into their town because of job opportunities or they want' to move into a residential home, the churches don't know how to bring these new people into the church," West said. "There's a generation gap there, and also many of these people come in from these urban areas, and the buildings and such don't really meet their expectations. We're closing a church a day now." The fact that many pastors see rural churches as steppingstones makes it difficult as well, West said. "The people want their pastors to stay awhile, but the facts of life are that many pastors come from urban areas, and many times, graduates of seminary schools go to rural areas not wanting to be there, not knowing what to do once they are there and wanting to leave as soon as they can." West said the problems have left rural churches with "a deep feeling of insecurity." "They don't know if they can survive," he said. "Many of them just want to keep their doors open for one more year." West wants to build service areas, one church that could serve a large area and help the smaller churches with their needs. "It doesn't mean we'll have one big church," he said. 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