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5 Top Contenders for Conservative Christian Hater of the Year

In the political theater of the Religious Right, Fred Phelps will be hard to replace.
 
 
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Photo Credit: BBCExplore; Screenshot / YouTube.com

 

For decades Fred Phelps held an unparalleled position in the spectrum of American Christianity. Arch conservative and biblical literalist, he was a hater among haters, a bigot among bigots. Any public disaster afforded an opportunity to revel in God’s wrath. Even in the presence of anguish — whether the anguish of a family whose gay son had been murdered in Wyoming or the anguish of a family whose straight son had been killed in Afghanistan — Phelps stood resolute in his role as the Prophet Jonah, preaching divine judgment on a degenerate people.

Phelps was horrid, contentious and cruel; and as someone who spends a great deal of my life energy trying to call attention to the corrupting cruelties of biblical Christianity and the Bible itself, with its barbaric Iron Age texts, I considered him an ally.

As the face and voice behind “God hates fags,” Fred Phelps was the master of what I now call the Phelps Effect, in which a person makes his own position so repulsive that he ends up moving opinion in the opposite direction. Compassionate Christians scrambled to distance themselves from his Westboro Baptist Church, which in turn forced them to distance from a broader swath of theologies and institutions that are steeped in homophobia and self-righteous judgment. Once they got the wakeup call, some young people scrambled right out the door of the Church.

In a perverse way, I miss Phelps. He could be counted on to out himself. He was reliably vile, and in the political theater of the Religious Right, he will be hard to replace.

Who will rise to the position he occupied, grandmaster of the Phelps Effect? Certainly not his family. One son, Nate, and two granddaughters have left Westboro and have become spokespersons for more thoughtful and compassionate causes. The remainder of his church and family members are descending rapidly into obscurity. Try as they might to sustain the legacy, they lack the edge — and the audience. With Phelps out of the picture, the field of contenders thins out.

All the same, for the marriage equality advocate seeking sympathy or the anti-theist in search of a nasty sound bite, here are five devout bigots worth watching. Each has more of a following than Phelps, to be sure, which means each also has a lot more tact. But if you’re paying attention, the bigotry is right below the stage makeup, and every so often it shines through.

1. Timothy Dolan. As president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is a mainstream faith leader with access to the White House and press that most paid lobbyists can only dream of. Nonetheless, he regularly says and does thing that trigger backlash against the Church because of his blindered focus on obstructing legal rights for women, queers, and child sex abuse victims. After playing several questionable role in the priest sex abuse scandal ( coverupsmoving funds), Dolan successfully prevented New York victims from reforming statutes of limitations and so obtaining more time to seek redress after reaching age 18. After  fighting victims rights groups in court and the legislature, Dolan  said, with a straight face that we must oppose gay marriage because “our children deserve better.”

Dolan complains the Church has been “ outmarketed” on the issue of marriage equality and bemoans that the Catholic hierarchy is “caricatured as being anti-gay.” In recent months, faced with the question of whether a woman’s Hobby Lobby boss should get to limit her family planning options, Dolan has reclaimed his position as an informed moral authority.  Not. “Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available — my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them — is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?”