tml> Love and Hate in Topeka
  Contents
Introduction

Critique of Fred Phelps' Theology
Questions from the Audience
 
   
Love and Hate in Topeka
The Theology of Fred Phelps

INTRODUCTION

John Rankin:
Good evening. This is my first visit to Topeka, but it’s also fun because my father-in-law was born here ninety years ago. He died about nine years ago. My father was born and raised up in Nebraska. My oldest son was here both last night and this morning from the University of Nebraska. He’s at a wedding right now and he’ll come back down tomorrow. I’m from Connecticut, that’s the northeast. I’m really a Connecticut Yankee with a Cornhusker’s soul. I should say Cornhusker-Midwest because I am in Kansas. And I do understand that you play football down here, sports like these. And of course up in Nebraska football is it, but of course up in Connecticut, basketball.

But it’s a real joy to be here. Our topic tonight, “Love and Hate in Topeka,” with obvious reference to Fred Phelps and his history here. I won’t be delving into that so much as I’m going to look at his theology. I have done debates, forums, particularly over homosexuality for many years, and I forget who it was, oh, a friend of mine in Wyoming who told me about Fred Phelps coming to Casper a year and a half ago to “celebrate Matthew Shepard’s entrance into Hell.” And I found that particularly offensive. Who can make that judgment, heaven or hell, except for God himself? And so a friend of mine out there arranged for me to debate, and Fred Phelps said yes. And I always make the assumption that people approach these matters with integrity until they show me otherwise. And of the 83 Mars Hill Forums I’ve addressed including last night, of the nearly 100 debates I did on the abortion subject in the 1980s, of the other campus appearances, I’ve had media appearances with people with whom I disagree, there’s no one like Fred Phelps who simply was not interested in communication.

I was very surprised at the beginning because I talked with him on the phone ahead of time. And I thought we’d have both sides be heard. And so during the dialogic period, those of you who were here last night saw how that happened. We tried to set that up in Casper as well. And so he asked me his first question in the formal sense. And I started to answer with a rhetorical question. He interrupted me and demanded the next question. Because he was saying I’d just asked my question when I hadn’t asked my question. Because if you look at Jesus you see again and again and again, he answered questions with questions. Now why is that? Because unless someone owns a question he’s not going to own the answer. And many people can try to ask a question that is going to railroad you into a presupposition of their own thinking. And I wish never to do that. I seek to do my best to make sure I listen and understand. But by the same token, in order for people to understand your answer they have to have some background. And Jesus did that often. He answered questions with questions in order to set up a true answer. And so I was surprised. I got shouted down by a dishonest lawyer. Or should I say a dishonest, disbarred lawyer. And so that was my experience. And so I was gracious through most of the afternoon until the end, I finally interrupted his interruption, and then the audience gave me a robust ovation because they thought that I was being a little bit too kind. I would rather err on the side of kindness in order for all people to be heard no matter how much I disagree with them. So that is my history with Fred Phelps, and emails with his daughter Margie Phelps in the meantime, and some of his followers as well. All coming down to the sovereignty-choice issue theologically. And so what I want to do tonight is to give a little bit of a prelude and then I’ll walk through my prepared text in Casper on the topic, “Does God Hate Homosexuals?” And that was the question Fred Phelps wanted, I was glad to address that. He said “yes” and I said “no.”

But before I do that I want to make a couple of observations, one of which was as we got set to do this, all of a sudden I got a fax last week from Margie Phelps with the normal stuff on the website [www.godhatesfags.com], calling me a heretic and wannabe, whatever else I was called. And so I emailed her back and I said, good afternoon and what fun! Last year I offered your father the opportunity to debate me at his church in Topeka. So after all that challenges, I will come to your church on your terms, and get all the people who disagree with me and let you rake me over the coals with your toughest questions. Is that fair? I offered it. But he refused and said, insisting, I provide a locale in Topeka. Well, it is beyond my person to do so as I only come to Topeka at the invitation of local Christians and according to their priorities. In other words, unless there are people here who want to sponsor me like that, I’m not the person to pull it off. You have the authority, Fred Phelps, if you want me to come to your church. And you can ask your toughest questions in a debate format. And I said, your father’s refusal to debate me in his own church is the real mark of cowardice. And I was calling him a coward from a number of angles. Rarely, in fact this may be the only case that I can think of, have I ever spoken out that way in person, publically or in private email, to actually call someone a coward. And there is precedent for that.

The precedent is how Jesus dealt with his enemies. And only after he gave them the full opportunity to make their case, they prove themselves to be liars, did he then call a spade a spade. In Matthew 23, after his enemies dared not ask him any more questions, then he went through the seven woes. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you traverse the whole land to make a single convert, and when he’s converted you make him twice the son of hell that you are. Now why was Jesus speaking of the Pharisees this way? Because they wanted no honesty, no communication, and they wanted to kill Jesus. They wanted to kill Jesus because they hated the Gospel. So whether someone wants to kill you or whether they just hate you, if they cut off communication, then Jesus finally says I will pronounce judgment on you, not according to my presuppositions or according to my biases, but according to the word you spoke in public.

And so for me to say he [Fred Phelps] has the real mark of cowardice is ultimately because I believe I have to say that. Yet if he wishes to attend Friday or Saturday night (that’s tonight) and/or with any of his band of unmerry followers, I am glad to give him first opportunity to ask me questions during the Q&A. So if there is a follower of Fred Phelps tonight when we get to the Q&A, you have first shot in your questions. And in the future, if he wishes such a direct debate, I am glad to do so when the debate format allows for argument in both directions. The invitation is always open. And so that’s the predicate to why I am here this evening. Because in being invited to preach tomorrow, do the Mars Hill Forum, I said, are you free? Let’s fill it up with a couple of addresses. So this morning on the holier-than-thou bust, and this evening on love and hate.

I’m going to make a couple of observations before I go through what I presented a year and a half ago. One thing that is remarkable to me is the co-dependency between Fred Phelps and the homosexual persons he hates. He needs them for his own sense of identity. And they need him. You go up to Canada and you look at the bill C-250 which is aimed to restrict religious liberty to speak no to homosexuality. If it passes . . .

Voice in audience:
C-? Is that in Canada?

John Rankin:
C-250. That’s in Canada. I don’t know what the “C” stands for, but if you want to talk to me afterwards I will actually show you a piece of information with me that will give you a place to track that down. Or I’ll give you my card so you can track it down. Actually, just go to the internet and do a search on “Canada C-250” and you should be able to track it down. The MP, the Canadian senator who’s pushing this is a person who saw Fred Phelps come to Canada two years ago to protest something along this line, and this man was so incensed by the filth and hatred of what Fred Phelps did, he swore that he would restrict the liberty of people like that to speak opposition to homosexuality. So in a nutshell he gave opportunity with his hatred to get a more vicious reaction. Well that’s the nature of hatred, OK? Get more and more vicious reactions. So anyhow there’s a co-dependency there. But let me give you two elements of where that co-dependency reveals itself. First of all, I’ve read, and most of you know this, about a half a year ago or so, Fred Phelps lost his website. Did you read about that?

Voice in audience:
No.

John Rankin:
www.godhatesfags.com. It was national news, we got it in Connecticut. And what happened is, he failed to renew it on time. A homosexual group took it over, because they were waiting to see when it would be lost. I thought everyone would know that, so I’ll have to go back to my file to see what’s in my file and pull it out. And what happened was, after a short while they gave it back to him because they couldn’t stand him not having it, because they needed him to hate as he was hating them. And so this demonstrated to me, in fact Margie Phelps was quoted in the newspapers as being furious at the subversion in what they were doing in taking over their website. Well, they just failed to renew it, somebody else renewed it, you know, go for it.

The other point of co-dependency is quite remarkable thing in my own experience. In April 2002 I addressed a forum at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. One of the more robust forums that I’ve ever addressed. The majority of the audience were avowed homosexuals. One fellow gave his address saying yes to same-sex marriage. Then when it came time, it was a room that could seat about 100 and there were about, oh, almost 100 people. So it was very full and a very hot night. And so when it came time for my formal 18-minute presentation, on cue, three transvestites walked in at the top of the auditorium. And their whole goal was to distract me. Well they did distract me. But during the Q&A, they tried four or five or six times to say that I was homophobic and fearful of homosexuals. I said, how can you call me homophobic if I’ve studied at Harvard Divinity School, where half of the students were allegedly homosexual? I said, a homophobe would not go there to study and would not study with homosexual persons. And I gave some other examples. Perhaps one of the most powerful examples was I talked about going to the largest homosexual restaurant in Connecticut, in Hartford. Actually maybe a mile from where I grew up in the Bohemian west end of Hartford, a bookstore. And so I went into the restaurant, and it was an eye-opener to go there. I did it because the number one homosexual activist in the city had written me and completely misunderstood where I was coming from. So I talked to him and he said, you know, you don’t understand where I’m coming from. I said, well, then let’s sit down and have lunch and I will listen to you. And that’s not what most homosexual persons expect from an evangelical minister like myself. I said, where would you like to meet? So he tested me to come into a homosexual restaurant. I said I’ll be there. I don’t expect to ever go there again unless the Holy Spirit were to lead me to do so, my theological perspective. But I prayed my faith where I was free to go to that restaurant. I was just going to go there to have lunch in a restaurant, where I was the only heterosexual person there. I have to admit my naivete. I’m walking out and this young lady starts to flirt with me. I’m not used to being in a world like that. So this is the world. But you see, I went there on his own terms. I sat there and ordered from their menu and let him for forty-five minutes to an hour tell me why I was wrong. You know something? At the end of that conversation he began to open up his heart and soul a little bit. And we talked about, I quoted the Bible to him and my trilogy, which I hope to be published in the summer.

But, I said to the audience at Wesleyan, do homophobes do that? So they were striking out on trying to call me a homophobe. So finally this young man says, he said, and his name was [inaudible], I know you’re a homophobe, I know. I said really? He said, because you wish you were like us. I said no and I moved on. He was deflated. Why was that? A lot of people facing a debate like this have got personal axes to grind. Skeletons in their own closets, broken relationships and so forth. And he was like a trained hawk looking for that one place where he can find a skeleton in my closet or an axe to grind. He didn’t find it and he was delfated. The point being that, but before I got to the auditorium itself I walked through the campus, it was in the middle of two weeks that was called “Queer Awareness Days”. That’s how homosexual groups call themselves. And they had chalkings all over the sidewalk for awareness. Well, as I walked to where I was going there were four chalkings, and I’m not going to give you the exact words, but everyone knew, everyone who saw it saw it, calling for me to be homosexually raped, identifiable by one person who was there that night. As a result, the whole university has forbidden all chalkings since but they never wanted to admit it. Why? And I’ll tell you why. I haven’t investigated this but you know most college campuses have hate speech codes. And a lot of the hate speech codes say if you say something unkind about anyone, then you can be in violation or be fined or be penalized in some capacity. And many hate speech codes are promulgated by homosexual persons or homosexual rights groups. And here at Wesleyan is probably one of the top campuses in the nation to do that. But I didn’t bother to research it because I wasn’t going to file a lawsuit. But if I’m correct and they have a hate speech code, then they violated against me, an evangelical minister. And I could have filed a lawsuit. I could have the front page of the New York Times. But I had no interest in that. It isn’t my goal to file a lawsuit and get publicity, it is to show the love of God with people who disagree with me. And if they don’t agree with my faith I am going to honor their life, liberty and property including their freedom to speak that way negatively against me. And so what happened as a result at Wesleyan was that was what they were calling for.

Well, Fred Phelps is co-dependent in the same way. After my debate with him in Casper a year and a half ago on his website, maybe some of you saw it, there was a cartoon with my name attached to it calling for me to be homosexually raped. So how is it that the homosexuals want to see me homosexually raped, and Fred Phelps wants to see me homosexually raped. What kind of co-dependency is there? Well, there is a co-dependency. And the co-dependency, and I won’t pretend to be a psychologist either, is there are idolatries of hate in reaction to something in someone’s life. Where they feel they have to be hateful toward a person or toward an agenda in order to have a sense of identity or self.

Anyhow, let me walk through my prepared text which is designed for 18 minutes, and let me add a little bit more commentary. And when I’m done with this I’ll open it up for questions and answers. But this is what I presented in Casper. Actually it was Jim Congdon’s brother in Washington state or the northwest wherever he lives, who saw this on the website. In fact, Fred Phelps posted this on the website, my commentary with his. And the way he was able to do it is because my friend in Wyoming gave him the text. And then I have this on my website as well. I get emails from all over the world, in particular from homosexual persons, thanking me for challenging his idolatry of hate. But they still can’t quite figure me out. In fact, when Fred Phelps came to Hartford at the church across the street from my office in downtown Hartford, and another church, I got a call from the Hartford Courant by this young reporter, saying, oh, I see you’ve debated him. And I said, yes, he is an idolater of hate. She’s writing down and she says, oh yes, you know, he denies homosexuals their rights. And I said, well, did you see our ad in your paper not long ago? She said what was that? I said, it was 200 of us ministers who took out an advertisement, “Yes to Man and Woman in Marriage; No to Same-Sex Marriage.” I do not accept homosexuality but I affirm the image of God in homosexual persons. And she cut off the interview. She could not figure me out. Why was it that I was opposed to homosexuality, but affirmed the persons of those who call themselves that in that context? Why? Because that’s the gospel, to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, it think in a sense if I am being opposed at both ends, that doesn’t mean I’m in the right position, but I certainly seem to think that is very interesting.

Well, let’s read through the text of what I presented that afternoon. Again, the topic for the forum was, “Does God Hate Homosexuals?”

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  Contents
Introduction

Critique of Fred Phelps' Theology
Questions from the Audience