News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2006


Kansas church corrupts religion, promoting hate

Fred Phelps tolerates no debate about what he believes.

"That's one of the luxuries of being 100 percent right, absolutely 100 percent right," he says. "If you can read, you would agree with me."

Translate this into Arabic, and it could come from the mouth of Osama bin Laden.

Both are ostensibly religious figures — one a Christian fanatic, the other a Muslim fanatic. Both promote hatred and death for people outside their narrow definitions of God's people. Each, no doubt, thinks the other is going to hell.

Mr. Phelps, at least, is not known to be masterminding murder like Mr. bin Laden. But Mr. Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., delights in and exploits the deaths of others.

His church has been prominent most recently for staging celebrations at military funerals, labeling the deaths of soldiers as signs of God's wrath against everybody who's not a Westboro Baptist. But the church says it has held more than 25,000 similar demonstrations across 15 years — denouncing homosexuality, among other things, as a sign of depravity.

Considering themselves the only people bound for heaven, members of this church think it's their duty to pronounce God's condemnation on everyone else, according to The Associated Press. Somehow they missed the Bible verse that says, "God is love."

At its best, religion inspires people to live by the Golden Rule, helping one another and spreading harmony and prosperity. But Mr. Phelps and Mr. bin Laden show how damaging religion can be when it leads people to think they're right when everybody else is wrong, or when they exploit religion for selfish motives.

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