Westboro Baptist Church Community
As you read the title you might question what this community actually is as it is not a broad or highly known community. The text "Baptist Church" found in my title gives away its religious context. This religious community like much others, worship God and only God as they are Christians, but what sets the Westboro Baptist Church apart from any other church is that of its extreme beliefs and infuriating hate towards homosexuals. This can be seen and heard of as they have done countless demeaning protests against the gay community and other types of people. They go by the laws of the holy book and do so with aggressiveness. They don’t care who’s in the way as long as they get their message out, no matter how hurtful they are to other people, no matter how much they get hated for it. They’ll do it, because according to them, it’s God’s will.
According to Silverberg from his article, "Former Member of Westboro Church Reveals Why He Left," exploits the words of a former member of the notorious Church, tells us there are about 50 members in the Church (most of them being family members) and are all led by a pastor named Fred Phelps. Fred leads his Church alongside his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, with the purpose to adhere the teachings of the Bible, preach all form of sin, and insist that the sovereignty of God be taught and expounded publicly (WBC). In doing so, they have had multiple, hateful protests at military funerals, football games, and even the Oscars (Silverberg, D.). "The 50-person Church membership believes in the extreme ideology that not only homosexuals are deviant sinners, but also musicians, athletes, soldiers and many more (Silverberg, D.)". Silverberg says this regarding the many counts of hateful protests the Church has held against these types of people. In Silverberg's article, he shows us the views of a former member of the Church, though this former member wasn’t just anyone, it was the leader's son, Nate Phelps. Nate once lived under his father’s beliefs, whether it was willingly or forcibly, he did. After 18 years, he had enough and made a daring escape from the Westboro Baptist Church. Here in Silverberg’s article, Nate explains how it was living in the community. When asked about his father, Fred Phelps, Nate had this to say about him, “I think my father is a hateful person first. The religious beliefs gave him a forum and permission to be cruel to the world. My father would grab us by the arms, lift us up and drive his knee into our stomach. He would beat us with his fists on our face and body. He would kick us. He would spit in our face. He would beat us from our lower back down to behind our knees with a mattock handle, often splitting the skin and causing bleeding (Nate qtd. from Silverberg, D.).” It seems as if Nate despises his father for his cruelness towards him, his siblings, and the beliefs he brainwashed into them.
The article I chose to analyze was a poster stating “GOD H8S FAGS” on it. This poster was made by the Westboro Baptist Church and is proudly used along with other demeaning posters. Each and every letter in the poster was capitalized as an intention to make the statement clear as if the poster was shouting it out loud. The background color of the poster was made white to make the black letters stand out so it can be extremely visible from afar to all people, mainly homosexuals. The number 8 in this poster was made red to emphasize the word it was intended to be used for “hate” as it is the word that’s mainly put to focus. Most likely, the color red was chosen out of hundreds of other colors due to it being the color of blood or simply because people tend to notice this particular color more than any other. The number 8 was also functioned as a way of shortening the word “hate” since the poster does have a limited amount of space due to the characters being quite large; room in the poster was dire. They claim the reason they would use such an offensive, cruel, degrading word as “fag” was not for the reason to engage in childish name-calling, but because “fag” is a firebrand, in which is used for kindling; it fuels fire. The word is a metaphor used in the Bible where it is translated “firebrand.” They interpret the word “firebrand” found in the bible as a metaphor for the word “fag”. “Just as a "fag" fuels the fires of nature, so does a sodomite fuel the fires of God's wrath (WBC). “We use it because it is a metaphor chosen by the Holy Ghost to describe a group of people who burn in their lust one toward another, and who fuel God's wrath (WBC).” The Church feels the reason why they are using the word is a justifiable one since it is supposedly written in the bible disregarding the opinions of others, especially the homosexuals.
Homosexuals are not the only ones targeted by this church as explained by Barbara B. Hagerty in her article, “A Peek Inside the Westboro Baptist Church.” She tells us that members have protested at the funerals of public figures such as Elizabeth Edwards, children killed in bus accidents and soldiers killed in the war (Hagerty, B.) This is where Hagerty would agree with Silverberg since they both basically had the same thing to say; they’d agree that the Church hates other people besides homosexuals. The main reason why these people are picketed by members of the Church is explained by none other than Shirley Phelps-Rogers, the daughter of the leader and pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Shirley says, "We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation (Shirley qtd. from Hagerty, B.)." I’m not sure what her statement meant, but it sure as hell angers a lot of people. Shirley reasons what she and her community are doing by somehow justifying it by claiming its God’s will since it is written in the Bible. The Church would go on about picketing soldiers’ funerals, not because the soldiers were gay, but simply because they served for the United States military. The Church hates its country and anyone who supports it, even its soldiers. They claim the people who served the United States’ military are not soldiers, but turkeys; they are lazy, incompetent idiots looking for jobs because they’re not qualified for honest work (WBC). The Church also says soldiers were raised on a steady diet of gay propaganda in the home, on TV, in church, in school, in mass media and believe ”the two-pronged lie: 1) It's OK to be gay; and, 2) Anyone saying otherwise, like the Westboro Baptist Church, is a hatemonger who must be vilified, demonized, marginalized into silence (WBC).” Many people would disagree with the church, like a reporter named Julie Banderas from the Fox News that interviewed Shirley Phelps-Roper. Here in this interview, Julie asks Shirley, “What would you do if you had a son in the military? Would you damn him to hell as well? Because you’re going to join him there.” Shirley replied, “None of them would dare fight for a nation that has made God their number one enemy.” The interview goes back and forth with criticism; Julie calling Shirley the devil and accusing her of being insane along with her father and his followers while Shirley calls Julie a “dimbo” and all of America an abomination for being “proud of their sins; you can’t do enough sinning; you think gay pride; America is doomed.” This is why the Church hates the soldiers, the military, America. This is why many people hate the Westboro Baptist Church. Hate and be hated back.
Many people wonder how the Church funds all their protests and work since people cannot donate to them. They don’t accept donations due to a verse found in the Bible they interpreted as a law in which they must obey (WBC). Yet many people believe they get funding from somewhere. In Hegerty’s article, she states that, church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper says their booming employment and family law practice pays the bills for their travels across the country, when they shout their anti-gay message. They travel in vans to keep down the cost, which she says can add up to $200,000 a year (Hegerty, B.). This sounds plausible since eleven of Fred Phelps’ thirteen children have law degrees and make a good earning (Hegerty, B.) Some people wonder if the protests they do are for the primary reason of making money since the protests themselves are a source of some income. Over the years, the Church has filed lawsuits against communities that try to stop them from demonstrating. When they do win, they often receive tens of thousands of dollars in court fees (Hegerty, B.). Although this may be true, we can’t help but consider the possibility that they can be using religion just as a scam to earn publicity and money.
The Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for their demeaning protests and vulgar messages written on their signs. Daniel C. Brouwer & Aaron Hess try to make sense of these messages sent by them by analyzing Milblogs (blogs that host discussions on war and military issues). The Church has picketed several military funerals and had signs implicating the association of the military with “fags,” but can a real connection be made? The Church even goes so far as to accusing the dead soldier of being a homosexual when they know almost nothing of the person or more so his sexual preference. Besides the sign I showed earlier, they have made many others that are equally cruel, if so even more. They have made signs that read “USA= Fag Nation,” and their famous “Thank God For...” signs, for example, “Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for Breast Cancer,” “Thank God For AIDS.” “Each new tragedy that befalls the nation functions as evidence of God's wrath for the nation's license(Brouwer & Hess).” Brouwer & Hess analyze this through multiple milblogs. “The implication that Phelps posits a queer sexual identity upon the dead soldiers he protests simply does not stick (Brouwer & Hess).” Through analysis if milblogs, they have determined that Phelps and his church “is more vigorously framed as an antiwar protester than an antigay protester.” This would make a lot of sense since the Church has mainly targeted the military overlooking the many other communities that actually involve many homosexuals.
Whatever the reasons are for this unique church community to be acting the way it is, one thing is certain, that they are undoubtedly cruel, demeaning, and discriminating towards homosexuals, the military, and America in general. To justify all they have done by the will of God is certainly a difficult thing to perceive; but what if they’re right and we truly are sinning by our country tolerating sodomy; that by us “not warning our neighbor of their sin” we are against God? Nobody will truly know and to some people it wouldn’t really matter since religion is irrelevant to their lives. Yet to have such strong beliefs in such a modernized age makes us really think if what they are doing is the right thing.
WBC. GodHatesFags. Westboro Baptist Church. December 9, 2012. Topeka, Kansas. 1955-2012. <http://www.godhatesfags.com/faq.html>
Silverberg, David. Former Member of Westboro Baptist Church Reveals Why He Left. Digital Journal. June 2012. <http://digitaljournal.com/article/327045>
Hagerty, Barbara. A Peek Inside the Westboro Baptist Church. NPR. March 2011 <http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134198937/a-peek-inside-the-westboro-baptist-church>
Gayrightswatch. Shirley Phelps-Roper on Fox New. Online video clip. Youtube, 14 June 2006. Web. 10 December 2012. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3PyoUPcobA>
(Peer Reviewed) Hess, A, and D Brouwer. "Making Sense of 'God Hates Fags' and 'Thank God for 9/11': A Thematic Analysis of Milbloggers' Responses to Reverend Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church." Western Journal of Communication, 71.1 (2007): 69-90. <http://www.tandfonline.com.hmlproxy.lib.csufresno.edu/doi/full/10.1080/10570310701215388>
My "article" in which a member of the Westboro Baptisit Church uses this deameaning sign to give a message to all peole, "GOD H8S FAGS."
An interview with spokeswoman of the Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper.