Westboro members say hateful messages given in love
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Sunday, November 07, 2010
11/07/10 at 5:29 AM
Related Story: Westboro Baptist Church explored
TOPEKA, Kan. - The family of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, where he is the pastor, do not shy away from the term hate.
A banner on their building reads: Godhatesamerica.com.
They go around the country, carrying signs at funerals of fallen soldiers and gay pride events that declare "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Breast Cancer," among others.
One might be tempted to write them off as ignorant yahoos or shameless publicity-seekers, but that would be inaccurate. They are intelligent, educated and articulate.
The members of the Phelps clan believe that they are warning about God's imminent judgment for Americans' rejection of his laws, said Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of Phelps' daughters and a family spokeswoman.
"This nation has turned their back on God. They have given themselves wholesale over to disobedience and rebellion," she said.
Phelps-Roper denies that the church's campaign against homosexuality is an expression of hate.
"If you see some blind guy about to walk off a cliff, you're going to yell, 'Stop!' That's kindness. That's love," she said.
"When I send my people out, that's the compassion of God, to warn you, love your neighbor. Don't hate your neighbor in your heart. ... If you're not warning your neighbor that his sin will lead him to hell, you're not walking in love."
She said America has rebelled against God's laws by "teaching our kids it's OK to change your spouses and your sex partners more often than you change your smelly socks. And if you produce a baby in the middle of all that filthy carrying-on, feel free to kill it."
Homosexuality, she said, is "the bottom rung on the depravity chain."
"By the time you see a people who say it's OK to be gay, you know two things about those people: First, they have already institutionalized every other form of disobedience, and, second, they're a doomed people.
"This country arrogantly presumes they can do a thing that God has never permitted a society to do. And they think they can do it with impunity.
"We're in the last hours of the last days," she said. "This nation's destruction is imminent, and we don't use that term hyperbolically. ... These children are the last generation of this nation."
Phelps-Roper said Westboro members thank God for breast cancer, dead soldiers and 9/11 because they believe every bad thing that happens is a "smackdown" from God, a warning to repent.
Westboro Baptist Church stands alone in its campaign of hate.
Phelps-Roper cannot name one other church or group that supports the church's position, but she isn't concerned about it.
"Do you know of Noah?" she asked, a biblical reference to one man who with his family stood alone against the depravity of their time.
Other church leaders in Topeka have watched Westboro's message and tactics for years.
"It brings reproach on the church," said the Rev. Jim Bender of Faith Lutheran Church. "I see silence about it in the church."
He said he hoped Topeka was not stigmatized by this "new, ugly branch of Christianity. ... It's an embarrassment to Topeka."
The Rev. Tommy Scott, the pastor of the independent Community Church in Topeka and a former pastor of Beams of Light Church in Tulsa, said his church's members carry signs on the street telling people how much God loves them.
"We felt that another side of the story needed to be presented," he said.
The Rev. Cecil T. Washington Jr. of The New Beginning Baptist Church said he was one of several pastors who have spoken to Phelps privately about his approach.
"He was very cordial but very firm in maintaining his position," Washington said.
The Rev. Mark Waterhouse of Topeka Free Methodist Church said he objected to the Phelps message because the true message of the church is redemption.
"We just ignore him," he said. "But if the clergy do come out with a statement about him, it needs to be done in love."
The Rev. Fred Hollomon, the chaplain for the Kansas Senate, said the Phelpses love criticism.
"It makes them feel they're the only ones who are right," he said.
Original Print Headline: What many see as hate, they call love
Bill Sherman 581-8398
Shirley Phelps-Roper is interviewed in her home in the Westboro Baptist Church compound. "If you're not warning your neighbor that his sin will lead him to hell, you're not walking in love," she said. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World