WBC and me

I don’t remember how I first heard of Westboro Baptist. It’s been a while…they’re sort of hip to hate, right now. It was either from a funerary aspect (they were picketing soldier funerals, and I was reading an article about bikers getting together to form a wall around the mourners, and how steps were being taken to enact a new law about how close protesters can get to things like funerals – the law passed). Or, it was because of the over-the-top “god hates fags” webshows Fred used to do.

I’ve been following them for years, now  – for me, the theology is interesting…or not (reminder: if I’m talking about the New Covenant take me home).  What a lot of anti-WBC people don’t know or get is just how many “normal” or “average” Americans agree with Freddie boy, and secretly cheer his anti-homo efforts.

I last wrote about them in 2007, in my old blog:

Friday, April 06, 2007


A nightmare.

Like the worst sensationalist Dateline story, or a Lifetime movie from hell, the background of Westboro Baptist Church is pretty much exactly as I’d supposed: chock full of physical and emotional abuse.Rev. Phelps, as I suspected, and his wife, both come from abusive backgrounds.

“It turns out Mrs. Phelps was herself an abused child, according to her sons. “The only thing she ever told us about her dad was that he was a drunkard who beat them.”

Rev. Phelps had no mother (explaining the misogyny) and a bullying father. Though there’s never really any clear reason (as opposed to say, had he been beaten by his father or mother) for his…well, him.

“Fred Phelps had as normal and beautiful a home life as anyone ever wanted,” commented a relative who didn’t want their name used. “His childhood was very good,” says Hudson. “There was nothing in his family out of the ordinary.” “All I know is it’s a tragedy, and it stems from within Fred Phelps,” adds the anonymous relative, referring to the homosexual picketing. “It has nothing to do with his upbringing.”

Something happened, somewhere.

The normalcy I viewed in the BBC documentary,and my thinking that, picketing antics aside, they’re not that different from your average family, was evidenced:

“The pastor’s first-born, Fred, Jr., and his wife, Betty, were guests at the Clinton inauguration. The former northeast Kansas campaign manager for Al Gore in 1988 has a stack of VIP photos, such as the one of him, Betty, Al and Tipper, and even soon-to- be Kansas governor Joan Finney smiling and yucking it up at the Phelps’ place just a few years ago.”

I feel icky, now, and sad. Earlier I wondered how someone like that could be allowed to live freely…the violence detailed in the article exceeded my imagination (which, albeit, didn’t go very far. It was just obvious to me, from the first story I read about them a year or two ago, there was something very, very wrong). It’s mind-boggling how he was allowed to get away with, at times literal, murder.

Some excerpts:

“The stark contrast of the two masks-decent and repulsive, hateful and considerate, forthright and devious, stupid and clever-creates a polarity that begins to weigh on the observer. Contrasts frequently are the visible edge of contradiction. And contradictions sometimes arise from very deep and secret undercurrents. Currents of pain.”

“These reports contained allegations of persistent and poisonous child abuse, wife-beating, drug addiction, kidnapping, terrorism, wholesale tax fraud, and business fraud. In addition, Nate {one of four children – of 13 total- who left -nay, escaped} described the cult-like disassembly of young adult identities into shadow-souls, using physical and emotional coercion- coercion which may have been a leading factor in the suicide of an emotionally troubled teenage girl.”

Interestingly (?) he attended Bob Jones University for time:

“Phelps returned that autumn to Bob Jones, but left after a year without graduating. Later he would say he did so because the school was racist. In 1983, the IRS revoked the tax exemption of Bob Jones, accusing it of practicing racial discrimination.”

I just added that bit for the BJU slam.

“When a man in Fred’s new congregation came to him for marital counseling, the pastor recommended a good beating for the wife. The man followed his spiritual guide’s advice.

Later, he called the pastor to ask for bail: apparently separation of church and state didn’t apply to assault and battery. Phelps paid the confused Christian’s bail, but stuck to his guns: a former members of the early Westboro community remembers the following Sunday Pastor Fred was fiery in his message that a good left hook makes for a right fine wife: “Brethren,” preached Phelps, “they can lock us up, but we’ll still do what the Bible tells us to do. Either our wives are going to obey, or we’re going to beat them!”‘

I’m not even going to list the various abuses and punishments his children suffered. I could barely stomach reading it – and at times just let my eyes skim the accounts.

It also goes into all the lawsuits he’s filed – that’s how they afford their nice cars and big houses, and travel expenses and such. Since the 50s, he’s been sueing everybody, for every reason, under the sun.

Here’s a letter

, from the aforementioned son who left.

That article today did me in, my questions have been answered, my curiousity sated.

Now I just need a hot, hot shower to wash it all away, and some kitten snuggling.

I’m watching Fall From Grace, an excellent documentary WBC. It includes interviews with the Phelps, theologians*, family members of soldiers WBC picketed – and my favourite, the bikers who decided to show up and counter-protest with the noise of their Harleys, drowning out the hateful venom the picketers spew.

It is, of course, biased.  A movie could just show nothing but footage of WBC, and it’d be biased (towards intelligence and compassion) just on that, the rhetoric of the Phelps family is just so…outlandish. Absurd. Downright, abjectly hateful and angry. Sometimes it’s hard to watch and listen, to the stomach-churning ire…I appreciate the quiet narrative the filmmakers use, simply allowing the WBC footage to speak for itself, and the intelligent, well-thought counterpoints they provide from the aforementioned theologians, other Christians, etc.

Don’t fight hate with hate. Fight hate and ignorance with knowledge. I also appreciated a pastor saying it is fear, “the opposite of love is fear, and fear will always become an expression of hate, sooner or later.” The two children who left talk about how terrified they were of God (and their abusive father).  The pastor talks about how we cannot let fear keep us from loving someone.

Fear, abuse…so much of it making the world a bad, bad place.

I’ve just taken the time to read this very long article

, chronicling the rise of Rev. Phelps.

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