God, Buggery, and Mister Rogers

by | May 15, 2003

Here’s what George Bernard Shaw said about religious fundamentalists: “There are scores of human insects who are ready at a moment’s notice to reveal the will of God on every possible subject.” A few carloads of those insects were swarming recently outside Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh to reveal the will of God regarding Mister Rogers’ […]

Here’s what George Bernard Shaw said about religious fundamentalists: “There are scores of human insects who are ready at a moment’s notice to reveal the will of God on every possible subject.”

A few carloads of those insects were swarming recently outside Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh to reveal the will of God regarding Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and a few other devilish things they said were going on in the city, like Chatham College being turned into a “leper colony,” a place “saturated with a dyke mentality.”

Yes, I know, Shaw was also gay, but repressed–at least according to Sally Peters, a lecturer at Wesleyan University and therefore a writer likely disqualified from having much influence with anti-gay fundamentalists. In any case, the primary anger that day was directed at Fred Rogers, a guy considered a bit too “wussy” for the likes of the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas: Rev. Fred Phelps, a self-proclaimed minister and disbarred attorney.

I never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and as a rule I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the churches unless something crazy pops up, so it was a real mystery to me as to why some church people would drive half way across the country to disrupt a memorial service for Fred Rogers. The way I see it, there’s no shortage of real threats on the horizon if one really wants to go hollering in the streets about something, everything from crazy Muslims to Chinese coughers to Hillary running nearly even with George W. in some of the latest polls.

And so, to understand what was bugging this traveling circus, I had to go to the demonstration to see, as Shaw might say, what was making these insects tick. As it turned out, it was all about buggery, no insect pun intended.

A daughter of Rev. Phelps, Rebekah Phelps Davis, was waving two large posters when I walked over to ask her why she hated Fred Rogers. “GOD HATES FAGS” said one of her posters. The other said “ROGERS IN HELL” and contained a large photo of Rogers with a pink triangle aimed at his forehead, the badge that men thought to be sexually deviant were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps.

“Why Rogers,” I asked, “of all people?” Ms. Davis had a quick answer: “He had the bully pulpit for 30 years and he did nothing to talk about this message.” Mr. Rogers, in short, had plenty of chances to do some gay-bashing with pre-schoolers and he tossed it all away.

Apparently, it was the same with the astronauts who perished aboard space shuttle Columbia. Standing next to Rebekah Phelps Davis was a high school sophomore, Rebekah Phelps Roper. “THANK GOD FOR SEPTEMBER 11” said the poster she was waving. “I’m Rev. Phelps’ granddaughter,” she explained, and then went on to tell me the reason for the Columbia explosion: “Nothing happens that isn’t God’s will. NASA supports fags. They said it. Those astronauts had a bully pulpit and they didn’t use it. They said nothing about this message.”

That also explains September 11, of course. We got hit because we’re falling short, as a culture, in our gay-bashing. Instead of a million Matthew Shepherds, or at least some mandatory pink triangles, we’re reading Andrew Sullivan and listening to Mellisa Etheridge.

Crazy as it all sounds, Ms. Roper, unfortunately, wasn’t saying anything that we haven’t heard from some high-powered pulpits. In 1998, for instance, the Rev. Pat Robertson warned Orlando that God would send “terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor” to avenge Gay Days at Disney World. Orlando, it seems, had placed some gay pride flags along its city streets. Said Robertson: “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you.”

And on September 13, 2001, two days after the Islamic version of religious fanaticism came crashing into Manhattan, the Rev. Jerry Falwell was a guest on Robertson’s The 700 Club. Sounding like Osama bin Laden’s clone, Falwell said that an immoral America had brought the attack upon itself. “The pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

Said Robertson: “Well, I totally concur.”

As I was talking with Ms. Roper, a student from Duquesne University, Dave Brunner, walked up with his own homemade poster. It said “SANTORUM AGENDA,” with an arrow underneath. He stood next to Rebekah Phelps Davis. The arrow on his poster pointed to her “GOD HATES FAGS” sign.

Back home, I went to the home page of the Westboro Baptist Church, www.godhatesfags.com. The top story? “Thank you! U.S. Senator Rick Santorum” (a reference to Santorum’s now infamous interview in which he argued that the right to privacy does not exist and that homosexual acts are a threat to the American family). Well, thank you Rev. Phelps, thank you for letting us see what Mr. Santorum’s words are inspiring.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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