What to do with bullies

Today at 6:30 pm, Kenton Ngo and Johnny Camacho will host a podcast with Kansas freakshow Shirley Phelps-Roper (yep, Westboro Baptist “Church,” God Hates America, the embarrassing step-children that even the hardcore Anti-Gay Industry holds at arm’s length). The call-in number for those who want to participate is (646) 478-5825.

The podcast announcement was met with the criticism that “giving these people a forum for spewing their hate” only encourages them, a version of “if you ignore them, they’ll go away.” The problem is, they won’t. That advice for dealing with bullies doesn’t work in the middle school setting, either.

This is a perennial conversation that occurs when obviously disturbed anti-gay people express themselves in some public venue. Some people argue that the hate speaks for itself, and that engaging the speaker validates it in some way. I disagree, and will just share my comment here:

That’s an interesting question – should such people be ignored? Does ignoring them send the message that they are so fringe as to be inconsequential, or does it send the message that their views are a harmless and acceptable part of political discourse?

We’re dealing with a similar issue right now in Loudoun, in which at least two local newspapers have accepted a paid advertisement from a “church” (actually a political organization that needs to be investigated by the IRS) that is a patently offensive attack on the GLBT community. We had another incident last year in which a letter to the editor crossed the line into libelous statements that invited violence against some of our members. In both cases, we held the editors of the newspapers accountable for the decision to publish material that violates basic standards of decency and non-discrimination.

In both instances there have been individuals who took the position that such ugly speech undermines itself and that the best course is to ignore it. In both instances, I strongly disagreed. I tend to think that people underestimate the real danger of failing to condemn such speech. Ignoring it has an effect – it sends the message that it’s ok, it’s just one of many valid opinions. To me, the issue is not preventing the Phelpses and Ahlemanns of the world from getting the attention they crave, it’s preventing observers from concluding that, since no one opposes such offensive behavior, it must be an acceptable part of the discourse in our community.

“Giving them a forum” in this case could mean validating Shirley – acting as if she has something worthwhile to say – or it could mean giving her the means with which to hang herself. It all depends on how you frame it.

What I mean by framing it is otherwise known as moral leadership. It’s not acceptable to single out a group of people in a community on the basis of a personal characteristic, and attack them. Period. Our Constitution guarantees the legal right to engage in such speech, but that doesn’t make the underlying idea valid or acceptable in civil discourse. There is great power in calling it what it is.

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20 Responses to What to do with bullies

  1. Jack says:

    I entirely agreee. While I do think that homosexual acts are sinful, the thought that God hates homosexuals is abhorrent, and needs to be countered at every turn.

    Unfortunately, many of those who give them these fora do not counter their vileness, but just let them rant to get ratings.

  2. David says:

    Thank you, Jack. I appreciate that.

    I realize that you see a world of difference between what the Phelps clan says and the message of someone like Jay Ahlemann. What I wonder, though, is how in practice these things really differ. What does it mean, in practical terms, to “take a stand against the sinful practice of homosexuality”?

    I am unable to read such a demand as anything other than wishing to, and feeling entitled to, dissolve my family. What is “the practice of homosexuality?” Let’s dispense with the who you are/what you do dichotomy for a moment. In order to talk about “practice,” we’re not talking about individuals, we’re talking about families and couples who are committed to building a life together and caring for each other. To “take a stand” against that can only mean demanding that these families break up.

    As vile as the packaging is, Phelps is really just saying the same thing: That the problem is the existence of these couples and families. They also only speak of the “practice of homosexuality,” not orientation per se.

    So in the end, how is it really different? Prefacing the demand to break up my family with a couple of sentences about how we are to love everyone doesn’t really change it, as far as I’m concerned. The desired outcome is the same.

  3. Jack says:


    I’m not sure how to answer your question, because I do not know what is in the hearts and minds of Phelps and Ahlemann. But I can tell you my “best case scenario.” You and Jonathan have an epiphany, God touches you both and makes you heterosexuals. (I can dream, can’t I?) You both find wives, buy or build a big house together, and raise your families together as one family.

  4. David says:

    We’re actually really happy with our life the way it is. But thanks.

  5. Jack says:

    Many people living in sin are happy.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Jack, you can kiss my little round tushie – I know you’d get a real kick out of it. Like I said before, I’ve seen your writing and know from it that you practice the most sinful lifestyle in the history of mankind (and that includes chattel slavery). I think Jesus said something about specks in eyes and dirty cups. Please go back to your Bible and tease out the true message of Jesus.

  7. Jack says:

    Feel the love.

  8. David says:

    Ok, guys, cut it out. Jack is entitled to his opinion that we are living in “sin” and to wish for whatever he likes. He even acknowledges the profound improbability of this wish coming true. As long as it doesn’t take the form of coercion it really does no harm.

    Yes, Jack, we are happy with our family as it is, and don’t believe that there is any sin involved. This is just one of those areas where we shall have to agree to disagree.

  9. Jack says:

    “God created”? No, “God created them male and female.” The rest is corruption.

  10. David says:

    I feel strangely compelled to revisit our commenting policy. As I told Jonathan when he insisted that Jack was crossing the line by recommending that we find a couple of nice girls to marry, he was only sharing a fantasy that we would have an epiphany and see things as he sees them. I see no harm in that. I likewise wish that Jack would have an epiphany and see things as I see them. We seem to find ourselves at an impasse. Which is fine, sans the personal attacks.

    So: Please refrain from making them. Telling others to kiss one’s body parts, however round and attractive they may be: Not ok. Putting scare quotes around some one else’s family to denote your opinion that it doesn’t exist: Also not ok. That is dehumanizing. If you can’t talk about my family without referring to it as my “family,” then please don’t talk about it.

    Respect, respect, respect.

  11. David says:

    “God created them male and female.”

    A perfect example of why literalism doesn’t work. What we now understand from medical science is that it’s a little more complicated than that. These words, from who knows how many millennia ago, reflect the primitive understanding of biological sex that people had then, further filtered through their cultural model of gender. Probably the culture of origin defined visibly intersex children as “corrupted” and killed them (thereby destroying the evidence – very clever.) They knew nothing about the process of sexual differentiation.

    Why would God want us to cling to a primitive, ignorant way of looking at the world and our own bodies that defies the use of our intelligence?

  12. Jack says:

    I apologise for “family,” but you must be really thin-skinned to be scared be quotation marks. I used the quotation marks because YOU call it a family, while most people would not. I was, in fact, quoting you.

    In the future, I will use the word “household,” without the “scare quotes.”

    And it was less than two millennia ago, David, when Jesus said, “Have you not read that He who made[a]them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt 19)

    As for His knowing “about the process of sexual differentiation,” that is countered just a couple of verses later: “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

  13. David says:

    If that’s the case, then why present the meme “God created them male and female” as if it’s an uncomplicated absolute and the Bible has no more to say about it?

    I would maintain that people two millennia ago did not have knowledge of the process of sexual differentiation and its myriad possible outcomes, but I will grant you that there is a more complex treatment of the topic in Scripture than the usual know-nothing meme, as you relate above. All the more reason that the know-nothing meme is so reactionary and dangerous; it’s an example of misuse of the Bible that does harm to people instead of bringing us closer to the Kingdom of God.

    “[E]unuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb” seems self explanatory; what do you think is meant by “eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men,” and “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”?

    Other stuff: Believe me, I am neither thin-skinned nor scared by scare quotes. I’m just drawing what I think is a reasonable line of basic respect for people in their house. Family – real families of people, not just an abstract definition – is pretty universally important to folks, so I think that’s a good place to draw it. I also wasn’t singling you out for criticism. I defended your comment about what you wish as being fine. This is what I told Jonathan: He’s just expressing a wish that we would voluntarily see things the same way he does. Wouldn’t we wish for him to have an epiphany, too?

    I seriously think it’s possible to have a conversation and be mutually respectful. It actually happens sometimes, too.

  14. Jack says:

    David — I just put in a long post. Unfortunately, it had the forbidden word, “ince$t”.

    Can you resurrect it from the JUNK bin, or do I have to rewrite it all?


  15. Russell says:

    Jack …

    God touches me every second of every day.

    1. parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.
    2. the children of one person or one couple collectively.
    3. the spouse and children of one person.
    4. any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
    5. all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.
    6. Chiefly British – lineage.
    7. a group of persons who form a household under one head, including parents, children, and servants.
    8. the staff, or body of assistants, of an official: the office family.
    9. a group of related things or people.
    10. a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together.

    And least we not split hairs;

    1. One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or mother.
    2. An ancestor; a progenitor.
    3. An organism that produces or generates offspring.
    4. A guardian; a protector.

    We say we are a family because we ARE a family. I think our daughter would also agree.

  16. Jack says:

    OK, I’ll try to rewrite it as best I can. I apologize for the length, and I hope I got all the html tags right!


    “I would maintain that people two millennia ago did not have knowledge of the process of sexual differentiation and its myriad possible outcomes….”

    The historical record does not support that assertion, as I will show you shortly.

    “Eunuchs who were made eunuch by men” are castrated males.

    “Eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” is a more complicated issue. In another thread, you asked about groups that only go with the New International Version. In that version, they rephrase it to be “and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” Although not a word-for-word translation, it does seem to answer your question. Since those with damaged testicles were not allowed to approach the altar of God (Lev 21:16-23), I doubt that He meant that people castrated themselves for the Kingdom. However, some people did read it that way and did castrate themselves.

    Now, here is a very interesting article from your side of the argument. While I have no problem with the facts presented, I do have a problem with the conclusion, as you will see.

    The article points out that St. Clement of Alexandria “[made] it abundantly clear that the true eunuch is one who is capable of sexual activity,” but is unwilling to. The article later says, “the natural Eunuchs were the gays or homosexuals of the time.” I have no quarrel with either assertion.

    (If you read the quotes in the article, you will see that the ancients did “have knowledge of the process of sexual differentiation and its myriad possible outcomes.”)

    So back to Jesus. We have to look at the whole of Matthew 19 up to this point about eunuchs:

    1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
    2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
    3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
    4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made[a]them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
    5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
    6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
    7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
    8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
    9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
    10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

    11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:
    12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

    (New King James Version)

    Now, while accepting Bill’s assertion that “eunuchs who were born thus” were the homosexuals of the time, there is nothing in that passage that says that God made them eunuchs. God made “male and female,” not the “half-male” third gender of which Pliny the Elder wrote.

    The article continues with

    KJV Matthew 19:12
    “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

    Jesus mentions the natural Eunuchs (the true Eunuchs-the homosexuals), born from their mothers womb,

    He also mentions the mutilated eunuchs (made by men), These are the castrated Eunuchs.

    He also mentions those who simply abandon sex for the sake of spirituality. (Made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heavens sake.

    As you can see in his statement above, Jesus also was not getting a 100% response. Notice the comment about, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Some obviously could not.

    But Jesus said, that’s the way it is.

    How about you, can you receive it?

    But if we read the entire passage, we see the it referred to is Jesus’ statement on divorce, and the apostles reaction that it might just be better not to marry at all that got Him discussing eunuchs. Furthermore, there is nothing in that passage, or in any other, that counters the Old Testament and Epistle prohibitions on homosexual acts. He simply says that such people exist.

    Bill concludes his article with

    If Jesus says that some are born that way from their mothers womb

    And if you say that those within the womb are creations of God

    That means that those whom you may not approve of are creations of God.

    In the Episcopal service of Baptism, we are asked, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” The creation is God’s; the corruption is not.

    Just before that, Bill claims, “[You] cannot be anti gay and claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”

    Even followers of Christ sin. That is why we ask forgiveness for sins known and unknown. But I agree that Christ does not want us to be anti-gay, or anti-anyone. However, I do not agree with Bill’s definition of anti-gay, which seems to include “[disapproving] of the Gay life style.” Being anti-gay means wishing harm to gays. I do not.

    Those who oppose drugs, alcohol, ince$t, (can’t use that word, can we?) and polygamy do not do so because they want harm to come to addicts, alcoholics, siblings in love, or polygamists. They oppose these things because they believe that these things are harmful to the individuals involved and to society as a whole. That is why I oppose same-sex marriage.

  17. David says:


    I will give this more attention when I have time, but wanted to thank you for reconstructing your comment and apologize for the bad behavior of our spam filter. This very thing has happened to me, I am embarrassed to say, more than once.

    Advice for everyone, on any blog: If you have written a long comment, it’s a really, really good idea to copy it before you click “submit,” just in case.