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News Tracker: Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kansas, is a hate group masquerading as a Christian church. Led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, the misguided members of this church target homosexuals and a range of others with messages of hate. The church's ourageous protest actions - the group prefers to picket funerals(!) - have earned the Phelps and his ilk much media coverage.
The church's web site, www.godhatesfags.com, is deservedly listed as a hate site by many internet watchdog organizations. Its content is the verbal equivalent to what you would find in any other sewer. The same is true for its companion web site, www.godhatesamerica.com.
Phelps and his followers say his civil rights advocacy in the early 1960s was "the Lord's work." They insist it arose from the same strict reading of the Bible that propels them to savage homosexuals. Daughter Abigail Phelps, one of several children who live near their father in the Westboro Baptist Church compound in Topeka, says Phelps "isn't flip-flopping" from one extreme to another.
But Topeka civic leaders counter that Phelps' metamorphosis from civil rights lawyer to anti-gay scourge was motivated by his craving for publicity and gadfly's obsession with stirring up trouble. "He's made himself an institution in town by attacking people," said Bill Beachy, an official with the Concerned Citizens of Topeka, a local civic group.
Phelps' obsession with homosexuals blossomed in 1991, when he demanded that Topeka leaders crack down on gays who congregated in Gage Park, an urban oasis near his church. Unsatisfied by officials' responses, Phelps churned out vitriolic handbills accusing them of being "Sodomites"--and took up picketing anyone who objected to his harsh tactics.
Corruption, in Phelps' eyes, ripples from anyone tainted by homosexuality. Likening himself to the stern 18th century Calvinist theologian Jonathan Edwards, he picketed dozens of Topeka churches. As the campaign grew, Phelps moved out across the county to castigate anyone who consorts with the enemy.
- Pastor Who Takes Pride in Hate Traces the Emotion to Bible, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 16, 1999
Needless to say, the despicable teachings and practices of this extremist group fall outside those of historic, orthodox Christianity.
Phelps and his followers call themselves "primitive Baptists." They believe in predestination, the idea that God already has selected those who will go to heaven and that everyone else is irreversibly doomed to hell.
Their mission, members say, simply is to spread this news.
"We don't strive to change your hearts or minds," Phelps wrote in a letter to the Capital-Journal. "Even if we wanted to, we couldn't make you believe the truth.
"Every person who is predestined for hell will remain in darkness."
- Kansas anti-gay church embarrasses Topekans, The Oakland Tribune, Nov. 4, 2002
Despite the term 'Baptist' in the church's name, the hate group - made up largely of Phelp's children, grandchildren and in-laws - is not affiliated with any denomination. Most Christians reject Phelp's theology and methods:
"The slogans that Fred Phelps and his group are promoting are unscriptural and very inappropriate," says Dwayne Hastings, director of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious-liberty commission. "Southern Baptists stand on the word of God in believing that homosexuality is wrong and that, as the Bible says, it's an abomination to God. But God does not hate the homosexual.... To those who are unaware of the orthodox Christian view of homosexuality, Fred Phelps presents a distorted and, in fact, perverted view of God's word in his message of hate."
- Condem Sin - and sinner, by Robert Stacy McCain. Insight on the News, Volume: 15. Issue: 30, August 16, 1999. Page 32
The Anti-Defamation League has collected quotations from WBC materials and other sources that "expose the Church's views on Jews, gays, Blacks, Christians and the United States. WBC's own words best demonstrate the wide range and disturbing nature of its hatred." The ADL introduces its collection with an overview of the group:
At the funeral of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard, they held up signs reading "No Fags in Heaven" and "God Hates Fags." According to their Web site, they have staged "20,000" protests across the nation and around the world in the last decade.
Virulently homophobic, the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed the gay community at hundreds of events nationwide. Many of its fliers emphasize the race or religion of these individuals.
They believe that "God's hatred is one of His holy attributes." They are the congregants of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas.
Incorporated in 1967 as a not-for-profit organization, the virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) considers itself an "Old School (or, Primitive)" Baptist Church. The Church is led by the septuagenarian Reverend Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., and many WBC congregants are related to Phelps by blood. His wife, several of his children and dozens of his grandchildren frequent the church.
While WBC has picketed the gay community at hundreds of events nationwide, most of the individuals protested by the Church are not homosexual. In fact, WBC most often targets people it mistakenly claims are gay or those it believes to be encouraging homosexuality. Many WBC fliers emphasize the race or religion of these individuals, suggesting that the Church's hate spreads beyond its abhorrence of homosexuality. What appears to be anti-gay rhetoric is often a vehicle for WBC's anti-Semitism, hatred of other Christians, and even racism, though in the 1980s Fred Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of Black clients.
Trained as a lawyer, Fred Phelps was disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, which asserted that he had "little regard for the ethics of his profession."
- Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church: In Their Own Words Anti-Defamation League, last accessed Jan. 5, 2005
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