Press Release: December 2, 1998


Broadway United Methodist Church Plans Aggressive Response to Second Planned Picketing by Hate Group

All Photos by Dale Fast. Used by permission of Broadway UMC.


Chicago, Ill. (Dec. 2) The planned return of a Kansas-based hate group to picket a United Methodist Church on Chicago’s north side has prompted an aggressive, if unanticipated, planned response by the church.

On November 25, the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church faxed a hate leaflet to the church stating their intent to picket Broadway United Methodist Church on Sunday, December 6. This picket follows the group’s first appearance at the church on Sunday, November 22.

First Demonstration with Hate Signs

The 13 people in the Phelps group (almost all of them family members. including several children) arrived at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, November 22 to picket Broadway UMC and make their proclamation that "God hates fags" (the least offensive of their banners). Their notoriety is based not only on the profanity of their message but on a long history of similar appearances—one of the most recent of which was at the funeral of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard.

Broadway Church plans to give "vigorous inattention" to the picketers. The congregation intends to distribute leaflets to passersby on the busy street near the Westboro picket line. The leaflets will inform the community that attention to Rev. Phelps only feeds the power of his hate. A sign in the church yard facing the protestors will read, "We will not feed hate with our attention!" Sunday morning services at Broadway Church will be held as they normally are at 8:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.

"Fred Phelps and the bigotry he represents lose power when folks intentionally refuse to be contaminated by his message," Rev. Dell said. "In the absence of media and public attention, his hatred has all the glamour of a schoolyard bully to whom no one pays attention."

Broadway Church’s strategy of vigorous inattention acknowledges that the evil that Fred Phelps represents can not and must not be ignored. "The question is: What is the best way to confront that evil?" Rev. Dell asked. "Fred Phelps apparently did not see the reality presented to him two weeks ago—that we and the community will not be stopped or beaten down by his bigotry. It’s apparent that an even larger demonstration the second time around won’t deter him now. He feeds on media attention and instigating violent confrontation.

"Broadway Church simply refuses to give him what he wants," Pastor Dell continued. "He wants crowds and we’re telling people: Don’t infect yourself with the hatred. Don’t give him the audience he’s looking for."

On November 22, the Rev. Phelps picketers were met by over 1,500 supporters organized by the Broadway Church congregation, with the support of a local community organization, the Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC). More than 200 congregations and agencies representing Lakeview, the Chicago metropolitan area and United Methodists from as far away as Ohio, participated. Broadway Church and LAC organizers lead supporters in a "Circle of Care," which ringed the Church while it held its regular Sunday worship services. The circle was intentionally "non-interactive" with the Kansas hate group, declaring on numerous signs, "Justice, community, and love are more powerful than hate."

The Rev. Phelps has expressed his intention to engage in "regular pickets" of Broadway Church. The group’s picketing is in response to news of Pastor Dell’s performance of a service of Holy Union for two men in his congregation in September, and the subsequent church trial he will likely face in January. The congregation and pastor have declared their commitment to continue the church’s ministry of inclusiveness regardless of Rev. Phelps’ plans.

The Rev. Phelps has brought his anti-gay message and hate signs to numerous funerals of people who have died of AIDS. Most recently he received notoriety by picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student murdered in a hate crime in Wyoming.

Broadway United Methodist Church is located in the Lakeview neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago. Broadway states its mission as: "God calls Broadway United Methodist Church to be a faith community embracing the diversity of our Chicago neighborhood. We welcome all persons, without regard to race, age, gender, sexual orientation, social and economic class, faith background and physical or mental capability. At Broadway, we are accepted into God’s nurturing family, which invites us into spiritual growth through worship, study and mission. We are grateful for the opportunities God gives us to experience and share the love of Christ."

Members and friends of Broadway United Methodist Church, celebrating Rev. Dell’s pastoral faithfulness to all people, have created The Justice Fund for costs associated with a Church complaint of this nature. Those wishing to help can make gifts payable to: Broadway United Methodist Church, with the words Justice Fund noted on the memo line. Gifts may be mailed to:

Broadway United Methodist Church
3344 North Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657-3520

Telephone: 773-348-2679
Fax: 773-348-2521

For more information, contact: The Rev. Gregory Dell or Courtney Cosgrove

CORNET Note: Fred Phelps' hate group has a web site. You will be shocked at its contents. Follow this link only if you are prepared to see violent imagery and words. To go directly to the fliers (in GIF graphic format) announcing the picket of Broadway UMC, click here for the most recent flier and here for the first flier. Be prepared for hate language and images.


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