What fascinates us about Phelps is the brazen ugliness of his message. We wonder what to ascribe it to, evil or insanity.
Phelps was not a political opportunist, the sort of charlatan who hustles the public for personal gain by flattering their supposed morality. He sought neither money nor good name. He came not to bring peace, but a sword.
And we, the media, gave him that sword. Phelps sought our attention through the years, adopting new technology and pushing all the right buttons, and we gave it to him.
I have often wondered what would have happened if we had refused to take notice. Would he have kept right on picketing that little park in Topeka? We reporters hated being his megaphone, but we knew that he (and, more importantly, his more civil and well-mannered fellow preachers) were forcing the body politic to consider a very important question: Which civil rights can be denied to people on the basis of sexual orientation?
The question is not settled, but it’s not going well for the fundamentalist side.
And if, as it now seems, America is tending toward toleration and equality, Phelps — and those of us who covered his antics — helped to make it so.
Mary Sanchez is an
for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her
at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City,
Mo. 64108-1413, or via
email at msanchez@kcstar
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