Ministers decry 'hate' gospel

Local pastors say ignore Youngsville picketing.

The Lafayette Daily Advertiser/January 2, 2004
By Trevis R. Badeaux

Lafayette -- Acadiana Baptist ministers this week were quick to disassociate themselves and their churches with an Independent Baptist minister from Topeka, Kan., who they say preaches a 'gospel of hate.'

The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, plans to be in Baton Rouge on Jan. 11 to picket outside several churches and in Acadiana on Jan. 12 to picket outside First Baptist Church and a Youngsville elementary school.

The Baton Rouge churches were spotlighted by the media in 2003 for sex abuse scandals. The school received attention for a student's use of the word 'gay.'

The Rev. Mike Walker, pastor of East Bayou Baptist Church, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, likened the scheduled protests to a 'KKK rally.' He encouraged Acadiana residents to 'put a needle in their balloon' by ignoring the group and its planned silent protest.

'It's a little sect that chooses to preach hate. That's no different from the Klan,' Walker said. 'They don't speak for God. Nothing they preach coincides with scripture.'

Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator said that he wishes the controversy would just go away, but he's getting prepared.

'It's a bad deal all around, a bad deal for everybody,' he said. "We will be giving protection everyone, including them, but I'm getting a lot of calls."

Viator said 'it's a free country and everyone has a right to their own opinions as long as they don't hurt anyone else, damage property or break any laws.' He said that he hopes the the controversy will be resolved peacefully, and he's not sure where a demonstration could be held.

'There's no sidewalk, and it's all school property, so the only place I know is along the highway,' he said. 'I just don't know what's going to happen, but I hope to have a bunch of law enforcement officers show up and hope no one else shows up. It would be well worth the money.'

Other Southern Baptist ministers in Lafayette, including the Rev. Perry Sanders with First Baptist Church and the Rev. Jeff Cook with the Church WithOutWalls, declined to comment on the record, but stressed that Phelps, his group and his message of hate are not welcome in Lafayette and are not a reflection of the Baptist church mindset.

In December, Phelps turned his sights against the ACLU in Louisiana and Sharon Huff.

Huff, the mother of the 7-year-old student at Ernest Gallet Elementary in Youngsville, gained national attention in November after she consulted the ACLU because her son was disciplined and forced to go to behavior clinic for using the term 'gay' on campus. She received a disciplinary report that indicated that her son had discussed the term and what it meant with another child.

The ACLU filed a complaint Dec. 8 against the Lafayette Parish School Board, asking for an apology for Huff and her family. The board held a special meeting Dec. 11 and voted not to issue an apology. Instead, it released a statement reiterating its stance that Huff's son was disciplined for being disruptive in class.

In one report on the school issue, Sanders was questioned about the church's view on homosexuality, to which he responded, 'God loves everyone.'

Phelps is a vocal critic of gay rights. His church's Web site contains harsh criticisms of Sanders and First Baptist Church.

Representatives from several other American, Southern and Independent Baptist churches in Topeka, Kan., said their congregations and clergy also don't share Phelps' opinion.

'Fred Phelps is an anomaly. He stands by himself,' said the Rev. Bob Roesler, pastor of Gage Park American Baptist Church in Topeka.

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