quick personal note: I’m publishing this post in a somewhat “incomplete state” -without adding my personal thoughts and before updating formatting & adding proper links and attributions, among other details -because I’m working on not letting my OCD get in the way of my blogging. Like me, this post is a work in progress!
In advance of the Westboro Baptist Church’s upcoming AMA on reddit, former member Zach Phelps-Roper (grandson of the late Fred Phelps Sr.) has posted his own AMA on the site, offering his advice to the online community on the most effective way to respond. At its core, his advice is to “create a dialogue of love.”
The Westboro Baptist Church’s AMA is scheduled for August 10, 2014, at 3pm EST. (For those that are not familiar, AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and is reddit’s version of an interview. You can read more about them here.)
From Zach’s AMA description (emphasis added):
Now, a lot of people are having a discussion about how to handle my family’s upcoming Ask Me Anything. A common suggestion is to completely ignore them, so not a single individual poses one question in their direction. This, however, will not happen. You may personally refuse to participate in the AMA, you may encourage others to do the same, but some people will respond, that’s inevitable. It’s just how the world rolls.
Sadly, most people want to say very hateful things to them. Recognize something: And this is the truth, and I know because I was there. While their message is very hurtful, there is no doubt about it, that doesn’t mean it is malicious. Misguided? Absolutely. When I was in the church, I was thought that what I was doing was not only the right thing to do, but the ONLY appropriate and good thing to be done. They’ve seen uncountable middle fingers, it only makes them feel validated in their beliefs as Jesus Christ was quoted as saying, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
Instead, create a dialogue of love. If you truly want the church to dissolve, that is what you need to do. You need to sincerely show them love. “Ignore them and they’ll go away” is a slogan I frequently have read on this site. Wrong. The WBC has been picketing in Topeka, Kansas every single day for over two decades. As you can imagine, their shit got old a long time ago, and besides the occasional shouting and honking, they’re pretty much ignored, yet they still do it every single day. They are absolutely convinced that they are doing God’s work and that publishing their message is the only thing that will give them a hope of not being burned at the most egregious temperatures for eternity. When I first left the church back in February, I believed that I was going to go to hell when I died. They’re all so afraid of hell and they’re more than willing to be despised to avoid it. Also, as anyone who has done research on my family knows: They’re bright people. They own a law firm and many work as nurses, computer programers, and have all sorts of high level of career, responsibility, and family. Consider the fact that a large percentage of people still there are young children. What do you think the kids are to infer from seeing their parents, and then seeing crowds of people screaming vitriol and wanting to bring physical harm to them?
Now, maybe what I’m suggesting isn’t practical right now, either. However, I want to share it, and I will do my best to advocate it to the point of reality. Love them. You may say that you “cannot” do it. Let’s be honest here. Yes, you can. You just really do not want to do it. Let go of the anger; it’s not good for your soul.
I love and care for you all.
-Zach Phelps-Roper, grandson of the late Fred Phelps Sr.
I think the world would be a better place for us all if we chose to follow this advice of unconditional love, tolerance and acceptance for all of our interactions.
Zach answers a number of redditor questions regarding the WBC, including why it targets military funerals and how it obtains its funding. It’s worth checking out the full AMA yourself, but here are some of the questions/responses I found especially interesting:
Do they genuinely believe that what they are doing makes a difference or does some form of good? What is the motivation behind it? Do they like being so reviled? Do they attract new members with these displays? (RevCo32)
They actually see themselves as comparable to Noah’s family in the story of the ark; they believe that the entire world is soon going to be destroyed and they must preach to every creature and condemn them for their sin for if they do not do it, their blood is on their hands. That’s the entire goal: To preach.
Making the doctrine pleasing and converting people was never the goal. However, a few people have joined the church as a result of the picketing.
Why are they so preoccupied with homosexuality in particular? There are plenty of other sins to go after. (insertbadjoke)
Because culture agrees that theft and rape are wrong, but doesn’t do the same for homosexuality. Therefore, they feel compelled to further assert that it’s sinful according to the Bible.
What caused them to start picketing military funerals?
They view America, a nation with abortion, divorce and remarriage, idolatry, and same-sex marriage to be a nation that defies the commandments of God. Based off of a verse in Deuteronomy, they believe that the Lord is responsible for every single death that occurs.
When someone joins the military, he or she is supporting a country that has made God its number one enemy and therefore, God curses the army with dead soldiers. Now, when a soldier has died, the typical message is that the deceased individual is a blessing by God. They feel a commission to go in proximity to these funerals and call the person’s death a curse from God and to warn the family that if they do not repent, they will join hell like the military man or woman.
That’s their rationale behind military funeral pickets.
Why do members of the WBC choose to live in nations “cursed by God”? It seems to me that participating in these nations’ economy and by paying taxes, the members of WBC are supporting the nation just as much as anyone else (military personnel included).
Well, according to them, literally every single country is hated by God. See: www.godhatestheworld.com
They live in America because they need to preach to the nation and it’s the only country where they’d be allowed to it.
When it comes to paying taxes, there is a quote by Jesus Christ that says “Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s and render unto mine that which is mine.” They’re lawfully required to pay taxes and therefore, they pay their taxes without feeling like they’re rebelling against God.
I have heard that the Church will take a “donation” to NOT show up at a funeral or other protest. Sounds lucrative and evil. Any truth to this??
No, the church does not take financial donations and if anyone sends any donations, they are mailed back.
Some radio hosts have offered airtime in exchange for the church to not protest in a particular area, though. On more than one occasion, the church has accepted.
Are all WBC kids home schooled? Does anyone ever go to college?
No, we all went to public school. I cannot think of a single adult member that is not college educated.
How does WBC raise money to travel and picket? (Follow up) I would imagine they aren’t the favorite people around their offices)
They work and have good jobs.
My family actually owns a lawn firm and while they’re obviously despised, people also recognize that they’re very good at what they do. One Westboro Baptist Church member has argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States and won the case.
That’s how they still manage to get clients.
Zach also answered some more personal questions:
Do you still believe there is a God or higher power that exists?
Yes, I definitely believe in a higher power. I attend a Unitarian Universalist church.
Zach, what is your favorite color?
You know it’s impossible to choose between burnt sienna and terracotta.
When was your “ah-ha” moment, I need to separate myself from this group?
Are you still in contact with your family who is still with the church?
There where tons of subtle things that made me question, but what made me stay was fear of hell.
Sadly, anyone who leaves that church loses their family, too. I gave up a lot to leave, but since having left, I’ve gained so much.