Westboro Baptist Church: Hyper-Calvinism and the Gospel

This week at my church, the sign outside at the front of the building reads, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”  And underneath this caption is a picture of two bibles.  How appropriate to what I’ve been writing this week about Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).  The bible teaches both good news and bad news – bad news for sinners and good news for those who repent and turn to Jesus.  But WBC announces only bad news; and they laugh at people who are going to hell, and mock them.

Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a small congregation of about 70 members, all except one or two families of these being related to each other.  It is what is known as a Primitive Baptist church and claims to be in the same Baptist stream as the early Americans from the time of the first settlements.  As such, it is in the Calvinistic or Reformed branch of the Church, albeit in a perverted form.  Alongside their pulpit is a sign which has the Five Points of Calvinism printed on it.  These five points are summarised in the acronym TULIP and are themselves a summary of the basic tenets of Calvinism.  John Calvin never devised or wrote them though.  They grew out of the dispute with Jacobus Arminius who rejected the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation in favour of Man’s free will and who wrote his objections against Calvinism in five points.  The assembled theologians and Reformed Church leaders from around Europe gathered at the Synod of Dort which was convened to discuss Arminius’ objections and produced the Five Points of Calvinism to refute each of Arminius’ five false claims.

There’s nothing wrong with having that sign alongside the pulpit, I suppose, (I think they are a great little summary) but I’d rather see a scripture passage if you’re going to have anything.  The person who told me the gospel and led me to Christ many years ago was in the Salvation Army.  He later took me to his corps (church building) and showed me a text which was beautifully printed on the inside of the pulpit lectern and visible only to the preacher.  It was meant as a reminder to every preacher who stood in that pulpit that Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man, and the Gospel is the good news of salvation.  The words written there were: “Sir, we would see Jesus” (from Jn 12:21); these are the most appropriate and wise words one could put on any pulpit.   So, as I see it, a sign displaying a theological creed alongside the pulpit rather than a scripture indicates where the hearts of the congregation are and where their focus lies. 

Calvinism and the Sovereignty of God

The doctrines of Calvinism as summarised in the Five Points evoke a lot of questions, even hostility, for some people; but it is not my purpose to discuss them here except as they have bearing on my issues with WBC, and except to say that they are defensible because scriptural.  The central idea in them is that God is absolutely sovereign and reigns over the whole creation, doing all as he sees fit, and he does not have to answer to man for anything he does.  And this sovereignty is demonstrated in, among others, the doctrine of election or predestination, which teaches that God chooses for himself a people from the whole of humanity, which is lost in sin and unable to help itself.  These elect people are, therefore, a limited and predetermined number and it is only they who will be saved because it is only they, the elect, for whom Christ died.  The rest of humanity God passed over and has left to die in their sins and face his judgment.

However, the elect are not the elite.  They’ve done nothing to deserve being chosen for salvation (Rom 9:11).  They are no better than the rest of humanity and are sinners just like them (Eph 2:1-4).  God chooses them because he chooses to, yet without caprice (Rom 9:18).  He is motivated only by love, mercy, and his sovereign will.  “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy…. Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom 9:15-16, 18).

Election is not the gospel; it doesn’t save anyone; election only determines who will be saved by the gospel.  The elect are sinners who need to come to Christ in repentance and faith and to be washed in his precious blood and be saved.  The gospel is the means by which the elect are brought into the kingdom.  Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God (ekloge: choosing out, selecting, choice [by God]).  For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost….” (1 Thess 1:4-5).  Even when Paul wrote to the Romans and explained election and that God chose those upon whom he would have mercy, as we’ve just seen, he still showed how Israel fell short because they didn’t seek righteousness by faith, “Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.  For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth in him shall not be put to shame’” (Rom 9:32-33).

But even the elect can’t come unless the Father draws them: All that the Father giveth me shall come to me;and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out….no man can come unto me, except it were given him of my Father” (Jn 6:37,39, 44, 65). 

God does not explain himself in this matter – he simply states the truth that he is in control of his creation.  “….all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth:  and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? (Dan 4:34-35).  You can read further on this doctrine in my article on this web site: “Predestination: God’s Love for Lost Sinners”.

Westboro Baptist Church and Hyper-Calvinism

The late Pastor Fred Phelps, founder and pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, was hyper-Calvinist.  Therefore he had a corrupt version of Calvinism and consequently a corrupt version of the gospel; therefore, it follows that so does each of the WBC members.  This hyper-Calvinism is the source of what is wrong with Westboro Baptist Church and its members.  The false doctrines of hyper-Calvinism are a perverted Calvinism and produce a false gospel which, in turn, can produce fanaticism, harshness, callousness, cruelty, superiority, exclusiveness, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, the spiritual abuse of its members, broken and divided families, damaged children, and all the other repugnant attitudes held by the members of WBC and of all abusers, whether individuals or churches or secular groups.  In all such churches there is a culture of fear, even though the members may not realise it or be prepared to admit it.  It also produces a siege mentality with an “us against the world” attitude, a sense of pride that they are the “faithful of God”, the “only true church” or “a true church”, and a determination to be separate from the world and from the apostasy of every other church or denomination.  The members band together as a tight-knit community and support one another, and get closely involved with each other, but they often don’t see that they’re being controlled by an abusive and power-hungry leadership which indoctrinates the members, enforcing it from the pulpit and through their pastoral “counselling”.  Exclusive churches are very unhealthy places to be and all individuality and freedom is removed from each member….and often their finances are as well; but I don’t believe that WBC is after money or, initially, after power.

As Megan Roper-Phelps, granddaughter of Pastor Fred Phelps, puts it: “Westboro is not unique.  The church’s garish signs lend themselves to this view of its members as crazed doomsayers, cartoonish villains who celebrate the calamities of others with fiendish glee.  But the truth is that the church’s radical, recalcitrant position is the result of very common, very human forces – everything from fear, family, guilt, and shame, to cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.  These are forces whose power affects us all, consciously and subconsciously, to one degree or another at every stage of our lives.  And when these forces are coupled with group dynamics and a belief system that caters to our most basic needs as human beings – a sense of meaning, of identity, of purpose, of reward, of goodness, of community – they provide group members with an astonishing level of motivation to cohere and conform, no matter what the cost.

Others with stories like mine have shown me repeatedly that the root of Westboro’s ideology – the idea that our beliefs were ‘the one true way’ – is not by any means limited to Westboro members.  In truth, that idea is common, widespread, and on display everywhere humans gather, from religious circles to political ones, freeing the believer from existential angst and providing a comforting sense of stability – a foundation on which to build a life.  But the costs of that certainty can be enormous and difficult to identify.  Ultimately, the same quality that makes Westboro so easy to dismiss – its extremism – is also what helps highlight the destructive nature of viewing the world in black and white, the danger of becoming calcified in a position and impervious to change….

…..But as I watch the human tribal instinct play out in the era of Donald Trump, the echoes of Westboro are undeniable: the division of the world into Us and Them; the vilification of compromise; the knee-jerk expulsion of insiders who violate orthodoxy; and the demonization of outsiders and the inability to substantively engage with their ideas, because we simply cannot step outside of our own.  In this environment, there is a growing insistence that opposing views must be silenced….” (Phelps-Roper, M. p. 275-276).

The members of Westboro Baptist Church, and all extremist churches, are selective in the passages of scripture they use to prove that they are right, and that the bible justifies their behaviour.  This enables them to parade their placards at picket lines declaring that God hates the world, in full confidence that they’re doing God’s work.  But the bible, which they claim as their authority, yet which is contrary to what they believe, declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting lifeFor God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (Jn 3:16-17).  And in this confidence that God protects them because they are his elect and are doing his work, they mock and taunt fallen sinners whom they believe are going to hell to suffer endless torment, despite the bible saying that God “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  How can they say their mission is not to save sinners but to announce to them that God hates them and that they are going to burn in hell forever, when God pleads with sinners to repent and be reconciled to him?  God doesn’t take pleasure in the damnation of sinners; he pleads with them to turn away from their sin so they won’t have to suffer sin’s penalty. 

For example, Paul pleads: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:18-21).

Paul wasn’t gloating that would burn in hell, as do the members of WBC.  Neither was the God the Holy Spirit gloating when he moved Paul to write these words.  God is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

And God pleaded with Israel through the prophet that they would avoid such punishment by turning to him.  “Say unto them, As I live, saith the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33:11).  “…rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil’” (Joel 2:13).

This is the kind of ministry WBC should have had; this is the kind of message that Pastor Fred Phelps should have preached.  And it is the attitude he had a responsibility to inculcate into the members of his church – an attitude of love and concern for lost sinners.  Instead he taught them to mock, to be superior, to be heartless and callous at the prospect of the eternal damnation of sinners.  The above verses show how far from being ambassadors for Christ they really are.

Westboro Baptist Church and Their Gospel of Hate

Hyper-Calvinists don’t preach the gospel, because they believe that the Lord will save his own, the elect, whatever happens.  And, as it is the responsibility of sinners to believe the gospel, Hyper-Calvinists leave them to it.  It is this doctrine and this attitude that motivates and drives WBC members. In their thinking, it absolves them of all responsibility to the unsaved and produces in them the hardness and callousness towards grieving families at funerals as they mock and taunt them because of their sons in the military who died serving their country.  It enables them to get in the faces of not only the mourners at the funerals they picket but of passers-by, and provoke a hostile response from them.  The gospel that Westboro Baptist Church proclaims is a gospel of hate and presents God as a God of hate.  It therefore misrepresents God to the world and turns away the very sinners whom God wants to save.  Fred Phelps and his congregation see themselves as prophets of doom pronouncing judgment on an unrepentant nation rather than as ambassadors for Christ.  Laura Drain writes, “The pastor said it was the church’s duty to tell our countrymen they were doomed, not to save them but to open their eyes” (Drain, L. p. 1340). 

Laura Drain, eldest daughter of the only family in the church at the time not related to Fred Phelps, writes about the church service that WBC had following the September 11 attacks.  “In the pastor’s sermon, he said, ‘Those calamities last Tuesday are none other than the wrath of God, smiting fag America….How many do you suppose of those hundred and thirty soldiers died [sic] in the Pentagon last Tuesday were fags and dykes?  And how many do you suppose were working in that massively composed building structure called those two World Trade Center buildings, Twin Towers?  There were five thousand or ten thousand killed and, counting all those passengers in those airplanes, it’s very likely that every last single one of them was a fag or dyke or a fag enabler, and that the minute he died, he split hell wide open, and the way to analyse the situation is that the Lord God Almighty, pursuant to His threatenings and warnings, killed him, looked him in the face, laughed  and mocked at each one of them as He cast each one of them into Hell!….God hates America, and God demonstrated that hatred to some modest degree only last Tuesday – sent in those bombers, and it was a glorious sight.  What you need to do is see in those flames – those sickening, twisted, burning, life-destroying flames, brightly shining from every television set around the world!  You need to see in those flames a little preview of the flames of Hell that are going to soon engulf you, my friend.  Burn your soul forever’” (Drain, L. p. 129-130).

In reality however, WBC members are more like demons, laughing and cackling gleefully as sinners are plunged into hell and eternal separation from God, fiendishly delighting in their misery and torment.  Speaking of the church members, Laura writes, “The ‘saved’ could see the reprobates down in hell burning, which was conveyed to us as the most appealing part of being one of the chosen ones, though the way it was presented didn’t make it look sadistic.  Megan, Bekah, and Jael would tell me we were going to recognise the people who were covered in flames.  I, too, bought into the idea that we deserved the pleasure of watching them get their due as they writhed in torment for all eternity, and every second filled with the worst pain imaginable.  Just as we in heaven could see them, they could see us relishing God’s glory in heaven, making their torment that much worse.  Our comments and judgments could also pass through and be heard by the hell dwellers.  Those of us in heaven could shout scripture and tell them, ‘I warned you, but you chose not to obey’” (Drain, L. p. 195). 

Where in the New Testament does it tell us that Jesus hates sinners?  Where does it tell us that Paul hated sinners; or that Peter hated sinners; or John, or James or that any of the apostles hated sinners?  Where does it tell us that the Church’s mission is to declare that God hates homosexuals and the rest of the world?  Jesus said that God loves the world (Jn 3:16); and he told the disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).  The word “gospel” is from the Greek word meaning “Good News”.  Declaring that God hates fags, God hates America, God hates the world, and you’re all going to hell, and similar logos is not telling people good news; it is not declaring the gospel of salvation from sin, peace with God, and eternal life.  True, sin must be denounced and sinners warned that they are facing God’s wrath if they don’t repent.  But this must be followed with the gospel and with Jesus displayed as slain for sinners.  WBC only talks of judgment and that it is coming upon all except themselves.  They have no gospel, no good news. 

Even the Old Testament prophets weren’t told to tell Israel and the nations that God hates them.  They were to tell them that if they don’t repent, God will judge them and send his plagues upon them and carry them off into captivity to a foreign power.  Their message was a warning of disaster and of God pleading with them to repent before this judgment came upon them. 

And when God enumerated the various sexual sins in Leviticus, one of which was homosexual sin, he didn’t announce to Moses that he hated homosexuals in particular; he said that homosexual sin was abomination, as were adultery, incest, fornication, bestiality and every other type of sexual sin, and child sacrifice (Lev 18:29); and that they were all punishable by death (Lev ch. 20).  God’s issue was idolatry, and the child sacrifice and gross sexual worship that were part of it in the seven condemned nations of Canaan.  Homosexuality isn’t singled out in scripture as the worst sin of all.  There is only one sin that is said to be unforgivable and that is the sin against the Holy Spirit i.e. attributing his work to Satan (Matt 12:22-30).

However, Pastor Phelps thought he knew better.  “The pastor’s hatred of homosexuality was long-simmering.  He considered it to be the basis for all of God’s judgments against mankind.  Of course God did horrible things to people on earth.  Everybody was either a fag or a fag enabler, and homosexuality was the worst of all sins, the furthest a sinner could go from His grace.  There was no hope for salvation for this population.  They would burn in hell through eternity” (Drain, L. p. 128).

It is true that unrepentant sinners will suffer torment in hell (Mk 9:43-49); it is true that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11); it is true that if we reject God and refuse to come to him, he will turn us into hell; and that he says, “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh” (Prov 1:26); and it is true that God laughs at those who are defiant and who think they can defeat him: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision” (Ps 2:4).  But that is God’s prerogative as our Creator; and he only mocks those who defy him.  It is not authorisation for Christians to rub the sinners’ judgment in their face, laughing at and mocking them; it is our motivation to warn such sinners to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matt 3:7).  Ours is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21); our emphasis is the gospel of peace with God through the death of Christ, not a gospel of hate.  The ministry of Westboro Baptist Church is not authorised by God.  While they use many scriptures, they are not scriptural and their ministry is not scriptural; their ministry is not known in the bible. 

On their website they have a string of bible verses that state God hates or abhors sinners; but they are all from the Old Testament with one exception.  And in so doing they’ve missed the point of Jesus coming to earth to redeem sinners.  When the apostle Paul was in Athens, he explained to them the being and nature of the true God and, referring to the times before the gospel (the Old Testament), he said, “The times of ignorance God winked at (overlooked), but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The one exception is Romans 9:13: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”.  Paul isn’t saying that God hated Esau actively but that “the people of Israel were taken into the covenant while the Edomites were rejected” (Matthew Henry).  And it should be noted that God chose them before they had done any good or evil.  “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger” (Rom 9:11-12).  It is clear that Paul is not referring to homosexuality or any other sin as the basis of God’s “hatred” of Esau; rather, he is emphasising God’s right to choose or reject whom he will for his own purpose because he is God.  Strong’s Concordance, as part of its lengthy explanation of the meaning of miseo, Greek word for “I hate” in the context of Rom 9:11-12, says, Summary: Miseo basically means having a relative preference for one thing over another, by way of expressing either aversion from, or disregard for, the claims of one person or thing relatively to those of another.  It may work itself in strong emotion, but not necessarily….(3e) Rom 9:13, of God ‘hating’ Esau.  No emotions are involved here, just God’s sovereign choice”.

A Trail of Blood

Westboro Baptist Church has left a trail of sorrow and broken lives in its wake.  Grieving families who gather to mourn the loss of their loved ones are picketed and mocked by WBC members.  This adds to the grief and introduces new emotions – anger, outrage, pain, bewilderment – and changes the tenor of the funeral and the mourners’ feelings.  Pastor Phelps said that “military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool” (Drain, L, p. 240).  And Megan Phelps-Roper writes, “Steeped in a church culture that demanded we disregard, dismiss, and disdain ‘unacceptable’ feelings of every kind – both within the church itself and among the community without – we became desensitized to the reality of the havoc we were wreaking on the lives of our targets.  The only pain that mattered was ours” (“Unfollow” p. 78-79).

And he forbade any WBC member from “attending the funeral of anyone we didn’t think was godly and had gone to hell, even if he was a relative.  We were supposed to be happy when people like that died, so we were not supposed to be in mourning.  No members died when I was there, but if someone had, we would have been happy and hoped that he or she was in heaven.  If the person had gone to hell, we would have been happy, too, because that would have been God’s will” (Drain, L, p. 230).

WBC members seek notoriety and consider their missions to have failed if they don’t gain negative responses and negative media reports.  By so doing, they have given the heathen cause to blaspheme God.  For example, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pastor Phelps was “…thoroughly convinced that God was sending a fair warning to sinners….’Look what God did,’ he said triumphantly.  The September 11 attacks were God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.  Gays were the reason God was so angry.  His judgment against them was evident everywhere, even if the ignorant couldn’t connect the dots.  The pastor wanted to get to Ground Zero as fast as he could to share God’s message, and he assembled a group of five or six adults to fly to New York.  My father went along as the videographer.  When everyone got back to Kansas, he told me that the protests had been a huge success.  He had captured great footage of the group standing in front of a row of police barriers and holding some of the church’s newest creations: THANK GOD FOR 9/11; TOWERS CRASH, GOD LAUGHS; NYPD FAGS; and FDNY SIN.  The bottom of the last two signs had stick-figure pictograms of two men having anal sex.  My father seemed so proud that the church had let the rescuers know that those who had been killed in the attacks had died because of God’s will” (Drain, L. p. 127-128; uppercase letters in original).

“Our antics at Westboro protests were vulnerable to criticism for any number of reasons, but their remarkable efficacy at garnering attention could never be gainsaid.  This was by design, of course; a major piece of the attraction of our un-church-like methods was the thunderous voice it gave us on the streets and in the media.  Both our picketing and the media coverage were finite and local in the very beginning, but my grandfather (Pastor Phelps) swiftly found ways to colonize the burgeoning power of the twenty-four-hour news cycle for his own purposes….Westboro’s relationship with the media became symbiotic almost instantly: they gave attention to our message, and we helped them sell newspapers and generate clicks” (Phelps-Roper p. 71-72).

But it is not only the world who suffers at the hand of WBC.  The WBC children are indoctrinated from their earliest understanding to mock, to provoke to anger, and generally make themselves and their church despicable to the nation and to the world.  And if they deviate from the church party line, they are disciplined and banished from the church.  Several of the young people of WBC have left the church, some willingly, others were wrongly accused and forced out, and these young people have had to re-assess life and religion and their relationship to God.

And the members themselves are never quite sure whether they are doing enough to earn their salvation.  As with all cults and abusive religious groups, it is essential to be part of it and in good relationship with it in order to get to heaven.  Lauren Drain writes: “Being a baptized member when you died was imperative for going to heaven.  If you died out of membership, you were bound for hell” (Drain, L, p. 194).  She later mentions a married couple, Karl and Kay, who had left the church, but who “wanted to get back in.  I heard that they were terrified of going to hell, the hottest part of which was saved for people who were thrown out of the WBC or had left on their own.  There was no chance for their salvation, since they were no longer part of God’s elect” (Drain, L. p. 206). 

The inconsistency of this last statement of their belief reveals another aspect of their wrong understanding of Calvinism and the gospel.  If a person is elect, then their salvation is secure for eternity because Christ’s death was on their behalf.  The Second Point of Calvinism, Unconditional Election, is made to clash with the Fifth Point of Calvinism, the Perseverance of the Saints which, in essence, means “once saved, always saved”.  Even most non-Calvinists believe that a saved person cannot be lost because their sins have been atoned for by his blood, their sins removed from them as far as the east is from the west, and they have been made into new creations and given a new heart. 

Wells without Water

With their zeal and their solid foundational knowledge of scripture, WBC could be a real force for good in the world and in the Church.  Both the world and the Church need some good solid preaching, warning of judgment and the wrath of God if sinners don’t repent of their sins; and this is just what WBC does.  The contemporary churches in general have become soft and secure and their members love their comfort too much; and the gospel they preach is wobbly and jelly-like because they won’t preach against sin and insist on obedience and holiness; it is nothing better than entertaining people on their way to hell.  The hope of the gospel has been usurped by a message of positive thinking and prosperity, and “the people love to have it so”.  WBC rightly denounces them for their apostasy and compromise with the world. 

Sadly though, what they provide in its place is rank error on the opposite extreme of the spectrum.  If they corrected their hyper-Calvinism to biblical and theological Calvinism, they would be a force to be reckoned with, not in themselves, nor in their theological system, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. When any church or preacher or missionary preaches the whole counsel of God, God honours and blesses it.  Who was it who founded the modern missionary movement?  William Carey, a member of the hyper-Calvinist Particular Baptists, the same stream as WBC.  He and his associates formed the Baptist Missionary Society and took the gospel of salvation to the lost, despite the protestations of their hyper-Calvinist peers.  Many of the most famous missionaries were Calvinists.  John Calvin himself sent missionaries around Europe and even as far as Brazil, and they established thousands of gospel churches.  And the great revivals began when Calvinists preached the gospel.  There have been other revivals but the lasting quality of them has not been as solid as those where Calvinism was the underlying theology.

If only Westboro Baptist Church had the heart of Christ, and of the prophets whom they think they imitate, they would weep for sinners who are on the broad road which leads to destruction (Matt 7:13), and their mission would be to rescue them while there is still time.  They started well as Pastor Fred Phelps, as a lawyer, defended black people who couldn’t defend themselves during the civil rights movement.  He stood up to the establishment on their behalf and, if they couldn’t afford to pay his fees, he defended them without payment because as a Christian, he felt it was his duty to do so.  When WBC began their demonstrations against homosexual sin in the community, they had a good cause and a right attitude.  But their anti-gay crusade has since taken a life of its own and the church has been side-tracked.  With Pastor Phelps’ passing, there doesn’t seem to be any way that the church can get back on track.  But as long as they live by hyper-Calvinist theology, they’ll never be on track.

However, even before Pastor Phelps died, eight men in the congregation took control of the church and implemented a reign of terror over them by taking the decision-making process out of the hands of the members and reserving it for themselves alone, thus going against the way WBC and Baptist churches in general are governed, and imposing draconian rules on them in order to maintain their power base.  And those whom they saw as a threat or an obstacle were humiliated by false or exaggerated charges and put under church discipline so that the threat was neutralised.

Jesus said to his disciples, those men who were to be the foundation of his church (Jn 20:21-23; Eph 2:20): “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  But it shall not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:25-28).

Following Jesus’ instruction and example, Peter writes to the leaders of churches: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2-3). 

But who knows?  Maybe there is still hope for WBC.  Maybe God is doing something with them already. At the end of her book, Megan writes, tantalising in its brevity, “In the years that followed, I watched in amazement as the signs I most often argued against – PRAY FOR MORE DEAD SOLDIERS; PRAY FOR MORE DEAD KIDS; FAGS CAN’T REPENT – began to disappear from their repertoire, replaced by messages like CHRIST OUR STRENGTH and BE RECONCILED TO GOD” (Phelps-Roper, M. p. 285).


Drain, Laura, with Pulitzer, Lisa.  “Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church”, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, Copyright Laura Drain, 2013.

Henry, M. 1997, “The Matthew Henry Study Bible: King James Version”, copyright Thomas Nelson Inc., pub Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA.

Phelps-Roper, M.  2019.  “Unfollow”, Pub. Riverrun: an imprint of Quercus Editions Ltd., London; copyright Megan Phelps-Roper 2019.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture references in this article are from the King James Bible.