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  • Smart takes    March 18 
Here's one reason gay-rights supporters should thank Fred Phelps
Chris Desmond/Getty Images
Chris Desmond/Getty Images

Most people who favor gay rights are appalled at Fred Phelps, the founding pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church who is infamous for sending congregants to picket the funerals of soldiers armed with signs that read "God Hates Fags." Phelps, a one-time celebrated civil rights lawyer, is on his deathbed, according to an estranged son. When he dies, says Mark Silk at Religion News Service, instead of picketing his funeral "we should give thanks for his gift to American society." Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, lays out his counterintutive rationale:

So what's the gift? It's that he made religious hostility to homosexuality repulsive.... The picketing of military funerals, the rejoicing in all domestic tragedies, the celebration of whatever punishment God allegedly metes out to Americans. No one, not even Sean Hannity and the KKK could stomach this stuff. [RNS]

By being so flagrantly awful, Silk concludes, Phelps and his church have probably "increased the sum total of tolerance in America." It's something to think about, anyway.

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