I said something nice about Jerry Prevo once. Honest. I really did. I even published my positive comments online. They were contained in one of the earliest posts in on the very first blog I ever had, in 2003, at the unlikely address of henkimaa.blogga.nu. You can still find them there if you look. — But let me save you the trouble: I’ve gone to that old blog & copied the relevant posts to this site. All of them refer to some degree to Anchorage’s 2003 PrideFest celebration, & to the visit being made to it by members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
If that name is unfamiliar to you, try this name: Fred Phelps. No? Okay, try this one: godhatesfags.com. Yeah, that’s right, those folks: the one’s who first achieved national notoriety protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was kidnapped, tortured, tied to a fence, & left to die in a remote area near Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. Phelps & his church members picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral carrying signs bearing such comforting slogans as “Matt Shepard rots in Hell”, “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” and “God Hates Fags.” Since then, WBC has continued to show up all over the place protesting one thing or another that they hate — or rather, according to them, that “God hates” — which proves to cover quite a wide territory. Their version of God hates “fags,” it’s been established; their version of God also hates America, Sweden, Italy, Catholics, Boy Scouts, soldiers, most other religions, most other Christian denominations, even most other Baptist churches. They especially like to protest funerals — of gays, soldiers, the Boy Scouts who were killed in a tornado in Iowa in June 2008. They carry provocative signs that loudly advertise their — er, I mean “God’s” — hatred of these things.
In 2003, they decided to come to Anchorage to protest during the LGBT community’s annual Pride week. They intended to picket the “fag/dyke Parade and Festival, the fag-infested Univ. of Alaska, Anchorage, and the sodomite whorehouses masquerading as churches in Anchorage” in “religious protest & warning.” Sadly, it seemed: God hated Anchorage.
And so finally my old posts, where you can read my account of events as they took place:
- 6/20/2003. Fred Phelps coming to Anchorage
- 6/27/2003. Anchorage Pride 2003: Look how far we’ve come
- 7/8/2003. Those Phelpists aren’t too clever, are they?
- 7/8/2003. Publicity, publicity, publicity
It’s in the third of those posts, the one that called into question the Phelpists cleverness, that I said something positive about Jerry Prevo. It seems that for some reason (& you can read that entire post to learn the theories as to why), the Phelpists decided that one of the “sodomite whorehouses masquerading as churches in Anchorage” they should picket was none other than the Anchorage Baptist Temple.
This part’s worth quoting at length, because it’s where I say something nice.
According to [the Anchorage Daily News], several hundred people took part in the Pride festivities — which makes me very happy, given how sparse participation used to be back in my early ’80s activist days; and then the next day, Sunday, about 20 Phelpists total picketed at the gate of Elmendorf Air Force Base, where a big airshow with estimated public attendance of 70,000 was taking place, and various churches, including Anchorage Baptist Temple.
Say what? [Double, triple take.] Did you say Anchorage Baptist Temple?
Indeed. Shirley Phelps-Roper told the ADN that they picketed Anchorage Baptist Temple — which is viewed by Anchorage’s lesbian/gay community as a sort of Homophobia Central — because it was the largest church in town, & its pastor, Jerry Prevo, didn’t condemn homosexuality “loudly” enough.
I suppose maybe because no matter how loud Prevo has gotten about it (& as a longtime Anchorageite, I can tell you he’s been very loud), Prevo has never called for homosexuals to be executed just because they’re homosexual?
Prevo himself seemed a bit bemused by Phelpist attentions, though he made clear to the ADN that his church is in no way affiliated with the Phelpists’ Westboro Baptist Church, and disagrees with Phelpist tactics and philosophy.
Good for you, Jerry.
[Double, triple take number two.] Did I say that?
By gods, I did. Good for you. Truth is, I don’t much like Prevo, or his tactics and philosophy (the ABT website doesn’t mention the slimy things he’s occasionally done in the past), but hey, on this one thing I can say I respect him. He does not so misread Christian scripture as to call for murder, or proclaim a gospel entirely based on hatred. And religious/spiritual differences aside, his church does seem to do real good for a lot of people (if harm, in my opinion, to a significant number of others).
Of course, you must take into account that I wrote that before I knew that in October 1994 he had preached at the Anchorage Baptist Temple about shooting liberals, telling his congregation that, “The only reason I would not take a gun and do it is because of God. That’s the only reason… In fact, it would be better to shoot a liberal, then, and then be put in jail. Maybe they’d at least feed you.” [Ref. 1] He later said that he wasn’t serious about shooting liberals, but had only been engaging in hyperbole. [Ref. 2] But then I guess you could say the Phelpists mostly engage in hyperbole too: in spite of all their hate-filled signs, they have never, to my knowledge, engaged in violence at their pickets or otherwise.
But I still wouldn’t say that Rev. Prevo or his church engages in the same aimed-in-every-direction hatred that the Phelpists practice. Rev. Prevo is very specific in his hatred: Love the sinner, hate the sin.
Though in the current battle over the equal rights ordinance, as in the two that preceded it, I think he might more truthfully state his belief as being: Love the sinner, hate the sinner’s ability to keep a job or home without being fired or evicted at the drop of a hat. And one can’t help but notice that it’s only one set of “sinners” that Rev. Prevo feels should be left open to such discrimination. Can you guess which ones?
Just a couple of days ago in a post entitled “Is Jerry Prevo mishandling the Anchorage Gay Ordinance issue?” Alaska Standard publisher & conservative talk show host Dan Fagan wrote,
On Monday Dr. Jerry Prevo was a guest on my show to talk about the proposed Anchorage Gay Ordinance. I will have to admit I experienced some discomfort with the interview. My fear is those of us opposing the ordinance are so obsessed with winning the debate we are sending the gay community the wrong message.
In the accompanying audio clip, with the filename it’s not just about winning the debate.mp3, Mr. Fagan observes that (according to Christian theology) we are all sinners, but the message Rev. Prevo seems to be putting out is that homosexuals are the worst of the worst, are lesser & lower than other sinners such as those who make up the body of the conservative church. Mr. Fagan suggests that some ordinance opponents — he actually uses the word “we” — have become so intent upon winning at any cost that they’ve lost sight of what Christians are supposed to be about. I don’t agree with everything Mr. Fagan says here, far from it, but I respect it a lot. It’s a clip well-worth listening to — what has every appearance of being an earnest self-examination about how conservative Christians might better fulfill their calling in the face of their beliefs about homosexuality & gender identity.
But in the meantime, yes, it’s been obvious to me for much longer than just this battle that Rev. Prevo is far more interested in winning the debate, whatever debate he happens to be in at any given moment, than in following the message of love that the Christian church is supposedly here to proclaim. There are not too many LGBT people that I know, myself no exception, who feels much love at all in the message Rev. Prevo directs at us. Not to many nongay people that I know either — just read the letters in the Anchorage Daily News, or the reader comments, & you’ll see that the majority of commenters whether straight or gay are sick of Rev. Prevo, consider his “Love the sinner hate the sin” as so much empty rhetoric, & wish he’s just shut up. To me, Rev. Prevo’s chief distinguishing feature is an arrogant, smug will to win.
And it shows in his tactics.
Which is what brings me, finally, to what about last Tuesday’s events reminded me so extraordinarily of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Because the Westboro Baptist Church is well-known for bringing their children to their protests as billboards of their hatreds. And while Rev. Prevo’s hatred — masked as it is in the language of “hate the sin, not the sinner” — is less crude, more sophisticated than that of Fred Phelps & his children, he is no less guilty of using his children, or the children of his congregants, as propagandist billboards on issues that most of them are as innocent of as are the Westboro kids. They are not comprehending: they are merely repeating what their elders tell them in order to please them — in order to please the people they depend upon & whom they love. And to make such use of their brightness, their innocence — well, I’ve gotta say. That’s a cold & cynical move indeed.
There were two separate worlds at play at the Loussac Library last Tuesday night: inside the Assembly chambers, & outside them, in the lobby & outside the building altogether. And I was inside. I had learned, of course, that adults from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, which is outside the boundaries of the Municipality of Anchorage, had been bused or carpooled into Anchorage to testify, despite their non-resident status. But other than some chanting heard briefly through the walls from equal rights supporters, I was minimally aware of what was going on outside the building until I got home that night & read Phil Munger’s blog post about it at Progressive Alaska. As he reported,
Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley fundamentalist churches bussed in well over a hundred kids to the Anchorage Assembly meeting this evening…
The kids, some less than ten [years old], were mostly without parents. They were sort of clumped together, perhaps by congregation, or by home schooling support group. Dozens of adults were taking pictures of the kids, some encouraged by the Christianist adults around the youngsters. I took about 70 photos. Here are a few.
Phil has graciously permitted me to reproduce a few of his photos here, as has AKMuckraker of Mudflats, whose post the following morning also mentioned the kids. As she wrote,
I was stunned at the number of children that were there waving red signs.
I stood for a while looking at them, and I wondered how many of them were gay. One in ten. I picked out one little boy, and imagined it was him. He will grow up among people who think like this. As he becomes aware, he will think that he is wrong, and bad, and unlovable. He will remember this day when he and his family stood holding signs. He may try to hide who he is. His parents, standing next to him right now, may not accept him. He may be afraid to tell them, and live his life as a lie. Or he may deny who he is and try to fit in, and trying hard to prove that he isn’t what he is. He may even bring his wife and kids to rallies like this.
Many of the witnesses last Tuesday night could tell stories of childhoods much like that. On both sides of the debate.
- Jones, Stan. (1994). “Prevo’s sermon draws fire: Some fear preacher may incite the fringe.” Anchorage Daily News. Oct. 22, p. A1.
- Phillips, Natalie. (1994). “Prevo plays to packed house: Preacher, guest evangelist keep up attack on liberals.” Anchorage Daily News. Oct. 31, p. A1.
- 6/20/2003. Fred Phelps coming to Anchorage. The “godhatesfags.com” followers of Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps announce plans to picket in Anchorage during PrideFest 2003.
- 6/27/2003. Anchorage Pride 2003: Look how far we’ve come. A brief history history of the annual Pride parade in Anchorage from 1983, in which there were 19 marchers, to 2001, in which there were two to three thousand. Can the followers of Fred Phelps wreck that? Don’t think so.
- 7/8/2003. Those Phelpists aren’t too clever, are they? Why did Westboro Baptist Church, famous for their website “godhatesfags.com,” picket Anchorage Baptist Temple — famous in Anchorage as the very center of antigay attitudes in Alaska?
- 7/8/2003. Publicity, publicity, publicity. Which Anchorage churches during PrideFest 2003 did the Phelpists picket, & which not, & why?
- 6/12/2009. Billboards. While in 2003 Jerry Prevo decried Westboro Baptist Church tactics, in 2009 he & his allies didn’t hesitate to use children — even some younger then 10 — in a very like way, as billboards for their parents’ prejudices.
- Photo 3, “Westboro Baptist Church kid.” Photo by andyofne; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license. Taken in Chalco, Nebraska at WBC protests of Boy Scout funerals on June 17, 2008. For related photos, see andyofne’s set Fred Phelps Westboro Baptist Church Picket Boyscout Funeral. Flickr.com.