This is a unique Ethics Alarms quiz, because I am offering it while having absolutely no idea what the answer is, or even, perhaps, what the right question should be.
The story you can read here describes the Westboro Baptist Church’s interactions with an openly gay DJ. You will recall that the church’s followers have achieved infamy by loudly protesting on the scene of private funerals for military personnel killed in combat, with “God Hates Gays” being one of their signature protest signs. Yet the DJ, when he visited the group, found them to be friendly, unthreatening, civil and kind. They hugged him. The asked him over for dinner. The surprised and puzzled writer suggests that the Fred Phelps followers’ act may be a form of First Amendment-testing performance art, sort of like Bill Maher. Maybe they aren’t really hateful after all. Maybe they just act that way!
My Ethics Quiz question for you to consider:
Does the fact that they can be kind, tolerant and accepting in the privacy of their abode make the Westboro Baptist Church protesters less unethical, more unethical, or does it make no difference at all?
I considered writing about this in the context of the ethical values that can be used to further unethical objectives. Loyalty, for example, can be unethical when it requires assisting someone engaged in wrongdoing. Honesty can be cruel and irresponsible. The conduct the story describes by the Phelpsians almost amounts to a breach of integrity: how can they act this way, if they really believe that gays are so reprehensible that it justifies God striking down young American soldiers? But should we regard Westboro Baptist Church members as better if they were consistent in their hatred? Aren’t hateful people who take a break from acting hateful more ethical than the perpetually and intractably hateful, or should we think of them as hypocrites? What if the writer of the article is right in his half-serious theory that the Westboro Church is bolstering our First Amendment rights by pushing them to the limits with their outrageous antics? Isn’t that a worthy objective, even if their actions go beyond legitimate utilitarianism?
Frankly, trying to make ethical sense of the vile and hurtful fanatics who publicly denigrate gays and disrupt family funerals in the process who revert to warm and fuzzy when a gay man comes to visit is threatening my sanity.
And speaking of sanity, I supposed it is also possible that the Phelpsians are just plain nuts.
I look forward to your analysis, because for the sake of my own mental health, I’m not going to think about it any more.