I have probably taken pictures of them, just children, young girls holding neon-colored signs like “God hates fags.” They couldn’t have been old enough to understand what the sign meant, but the indoctrination imposed upon Fred Phielps’ children and grandchildren was all they knew.
On principle, I refuse to recognize Phelps’ hate-driven “Westboro Baptist Church” as either “Baptist” or “church” — the group consists mainly of extended family members held under Phelps’ domineering sway, and its twisted theology is so antithetical to the Christian gospel and the Baptist respect of freedom that neither name is either appropriate or deserved. The proper word is “cult.”
If you want to see the living embodiment of the words “sick hate,” just visit the group’s website at godhatesfags.com.
Back in the day when I covered Southern Baptist Convention meetings for the Biblical Recorder, Phelps and his family-followers would occasionally picket SBC meetings — even those at which messengers were passing resolutions opposing homosexuality — because the convention’s anti-gay rhetoric wasn’t strong enough to suit Phelps’ fanatical phobia. Children were always pushed to the front of the sign-brigade.
In recent years, the extended family has gained more notoriety by picketing funerals of fallen soldiers or innocent victims of tragic crimes — including children — adding untold sorrow to grieving families by declaring that their loved ones’ deaths were deserved, a flowering of God’s punishment on America for tolerating homosexuals. Even when counter protesters and biker groups try to screen them from the family, the bile seeps through.
Earlier this week, Megan Phelps-Roper and Grace Phelps-Roper — two of Shirley Phelps-Roper’s 11 children — announced that they had left the group and were trying to figure out what comes next. In a statement posted on social media sites Wednesday (including @meganphelps on Twitter), the 27-year-old Megan — who had formerly served as a media spokesman for the group — acknowledged that she and her younger sister had grown up in a tightly-controlled family system:
In a city in a state in the center of a country lives a group of people who believe they are the center of the universe; they know Right and Wrong, and they are Right. They work hard and go to school and get married and have kids who they take to church and teach that continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make. As parents, they are attentive and engaged, and the children learn their lessons well.
This is my framework.
After spending most of their young lives actively participating in the group’s frantic opposition to “the world,” the sisters said they still loved their families but had come to doubt the message behind the “God hates fags” placards they used to carry, regretting the hurt they had caused:
We know that we’ve done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn’t the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren’t so, and regret that hurt.
We know that we dearly love our family. They now consider us betrayers, and we are cut off from their lives, but we know they are well-intentioned. We will never not love them.
The “church,” based in Topeka Kansas, was not so loving in its response. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, spokesman Steve Drain said the sisters had rejected God and chosen the world, with dire consequences:
“Those two girls were kind of straddling the idea that they wanted to be of the world but that they would also miss their family, the only thing they ever knew. If they continue with the position that they have, those two girls, yeah, they’re going to hell.”
I’m not the only one who would argue that the sisters aren’t heading for hell: they’ve just escaped it.