Edgy performance artist, Fred Phelps came to Rhode Island with his traveling troupe to put on the show they have been doing nationwide. The response was gratifying. Phelps’ dramatization of the ugliness of hatred and the destructive and irrational face of religious bigotry taken to its logical extreme spurred Rhode Islanders to unanimously reject prejudice and violence.
We are, after all, the state founded by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.
It was heartwarming to see high school students on the front page of the Journal rallying for tolerance, supported by school superintendent Mario Cirillo, who is a military veteran.
Despite the effectiveness of Phelps’ strategy for promoting gay rights and discrediting prejudice, I can’t endorse his tactics. I have to say as a gay rights supporter that the end does not justify the means. Phelps’ performances are not nonviolent.
It’s a kind of accomplishment in reverse that in the 21st century someone has managed to invent a new form of disgraceful conduct, forcing states to pass laws against behavior that no one had thought of before.
I’m referring, of course, to harassing bereaved families at funerals. Nothing, not world peace and a cure for AIDS, and baldness, can justify such a tactic. That is violation of the worst kind. Phelps may be carried away with his urgent mission to discredit religious fundamentalism, particularly Calvinism. But like many performance artists he takes it too far.
Some might be led to think that he really believes the hateful slogans he and his fellow actors paint on signs.
Although he succeeded in organizing pro-gay rights demonstrations on short notice, and ensuring the demonstrations would be well-covered in the news, I wish he would go home. He has business of his own to take care of, unless the Lord takes him before the lawyers do.