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Church welcomes Westboro protests, even though they deeply disagree
Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps says God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality."
June 17th, 2011
05:58 PM ET

Church welcomes Westboro protests, even though they deeply disagree

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)–When Westboro Baptist Church protesters roll into any given town, most places don't exactly put out the welcome mat, until this Sunday.

"This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Whore House for God's Grace and Free Donuts," Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle announced on his blog this week after learning that Westboro plans to picket one of his churches on Father's Day.

Driscoll is a popular pastor in the Pacific Northwest. He heads a group of multisite churches that regularly draw 10,000 parishioners a week across 10 locations. He preaches live at one location, and his sermons are sent out by video to the other locations the following week, when the services are held with live music and another onsite pastor.

Driscoll, a popular author and speaker, is "Christian-famous," which appears to have led to the protest.

Driscoll found out about it when someone posted a link on his Facebook wall.

"At first I thought maybe it was a joke," Driscoll said. "A church picketing a church seems peculiar."

In turns out it was not a joke, so Driscoll said his church plan to roll out the welcome mat.

"They need Jesus too, maybe as bad as anyone on the Earth. As a church, we're called to love people. They're people, so they make the list."

Some towns have gone so far as to create laws barring Westboro Baptist Church from protesting military funerals. Bikers have shown up with huge American flags and revved their engines to drown out their shouts, and counterprotesters have donned giant angel wings to block the protesters from the mourners' view.

"We need to be nice to these people, go out shake their hands, say hi, give them a bite to eat, cup of coffee and just try to be friendly and nice. The last thing I want is for our people to get into a shouting match with a bunch of crazies," Driscoll said.

Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro was started by Fred Phelps in 1955 and is best known for protesting soldiers' funerals carrying signs that say "God Hates Fags," and "Thank God for dead soldiers." It says on its website that it is an "Old School (or, Primitive) Baptist Church," though it has no known ties to any broader national Baptist denomination.

Phelps told CNN in 2006, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."

The church's membership is small and mainly made of Phelps family members.

They are regularly sued for defamation but often win those cases. Last year, one such case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices upheld their right to free speech. One of Phelps' daughters, a Harvard Law-trained attorney, represented the family before the court.

Its website, Godhatesfags.com, says the church will picket the Mars Hill Church site in Auburn, Washington. Mars Hill officials said that probably means their Federal Way campus, where about 600 people come to services each week.

Detective Jeff Kappel, a Seattle Police Department spokesman, said officers know the church is coming Sunday and said their city is more than familiar with protesters of all sorts.

"We're not going to infringe on anyone's First Amendment rights as long as no one is violating the law. If they're protesting peacefully within the bounds of the law, they're more than welcome to express their First Amendment rights."

Westboro Baptist said in the announcement about the protest that it is picketing Mars Hill Church because "they teach the lies that God love (sic) everyone and Jesus died for the sins of all of mankind. You have caused the people to trust in lies to their destruction, and to your damnation."

"For us, we do believe in judgment, but we believe God is the one who judges ultimately," Driscoll said. Some moral judgments along the way notwithstanding, he said, "whether or not people are going to go to heaven or hell, that's God's judgment, not our judgment. Ultimately, heaven is God's house. He gets to determine the guest list."

Driscoll said the sermon this week will be pre-taped, in part so he can attend a baseball tournament his son is playing in. The message, he said, comes from the Gospel of Luke and is about Zacchaeus, a crooked tax collector who found redemption.

"He was a total con man. Jesus became friends with him, and he became a Christian. Then his heart changed, and he paid everyone back he had ripped off and made a public apology," Driscoll explained. The religious leaders of the day weren't thrilled, he said.

"They were all basically protesting that Jesus loved this guy. He didn't deserve to be loved. The point is, no one is. Jesus loves just because he's loving, not because we're lovable."

Therein lies the difference between Mars Hill Church's theology and Westboro.

"It's kind of funny," Driscoll said. "They're showing up on the Sunday where the story is, Jesus loved a really bad guy, and the religious people stood around and protested."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • United States • Washington • Westboro Bapitst Church

soundoff (451 Responses)
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    August 19, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  2. Bourneclone

    Westboro Baptist Church (cult, really)...... honestly, there are no words. if there were, they would be along the lines of Small-minded, bigoted, treasonous, worthless, pitiful, sorriest excuses for human beings ever to exist.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  3. Mike

    It's about time someone figured out the only way to beat these fools is to fight them with love. Freedom of expression is as real as a slap in the face and, one way or another, you take the bad with the good or else you lose both sides.

    August 30, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Isaac

      No I think we should slap em in da face they deserve it people that have died in the war and so they are pretty much saying there happy they died

      July 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Vanessa

    I don't care what Nate or "i wonder" says, God loves all human beings, gays (not to say they will beong in paradise) or straight. I realize that "No man judgeth but the Father", however what Fred Phelps & his goons are doing is pure evil & God has no place in paradise for satin-driven people.

    August 11, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  5. Paul

    Reality is, that westboro preachs hate.

    And if phelps is right about gods hate...then god is not a god by any real defination.

    Or at least a god worthy of worship.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  6. Paul

    Im agnostic and Im convinced that I will be more likley to get to heaven that westboro evil people.
    They are going somewhere hotter.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Kim

      II know thier HATE gives them strength-not love of God. You are right their place will be warmer than sooo many wwho have done worse. IMy heart stopped on the operating table briefly Monday, today I can say I have no doubts. There is an afterlife, there is a higher power, we are a small part of something so much larger. Best wishes for your beliefs

      August 18, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Kim

      Im sorry about the typos, there is some numbness in my left hand, and the pain killers make it harder. SO,Down with the HATE MONGERS, and up with DIGNITY!

      August 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  7. Paul

    westboro church and its members are among the most evil of the world.
    If they ever protest a funeral I attend, they may very well regret it.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  8. Tommy

    These people need to get a life and get a REAL job. I wonder if Mr. Phelps may be gay himself. Usually the ones that fight so hard against gay people are in the closet and gay themself......just don't want to come on out and admit it

    July 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  9. TodayMessage

    tw said

    "I can say for absolute certainty that God exists!"

    fine, but don't force other to agree with you.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  10. shelou

    Bachmann’s political campaign promise, “ A sin free America by 2014”. Bachmann’s platform is looking like it will focus on three fast track solutions. First, since the Jesus model is too slow, it’s been supplanted. Sinners can receive therapy from her husband, Dr. Bachmann, and although he is currently focusing on gay sinners, he will soon be extending his practice to all “barbarians” and he accepts Medicaid and VISA. Or, if you wish to experience the thrill of the new religious activism, you can use ‘persecution “. Many believers have enthusiastically embraced the new fast track “persecution” techniques, and we have faith that the sinner count is dropping. The Westboro church has really gotten on board with the new “persecution” model. Or, DeMint’s bold new corporate model threatens sinners with unemployment, his current short list of sinners include gay teachers and unwed mothers who teach, but he will be expanding the list to other sins while promising that corporations will be exempt from persecution. Remember a vote for Bachmann is a vote for a “Sin free America by 2014”.

    July 1, 2011 at 6:38 am |
  11. Jethro

    Let 'em come on down here to Alabama and protest. We ain't gonna pretend to be bigger or better. And we won't protest their protest. We do know how to drag their asses down a road behind a big ole truck.

    June 29, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  12. InFormed99

    The Westboro Baptist Church is the most hated group in the USA, and that is exactly what they like to hear. They are attention seeking, power hungry liars who have come to enjoy causing others to suffer because it gives them a thrill. They are lead by a foolish old self righteous idiot (Fred Phelps) who tries to recapture his past fame as a champion for equal rights by perverting the very law system he used to help others with. IF there was such a thing a the devil, he would be his right hand man.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  13. Echo

    Excellent! Keep being the bigger person, Mr. Driscoll.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Reality

    Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd/insane side (e.g. Driscoll/Phelps) believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

    So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would like or dislike or do or not do?

    June 22, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jose

      One note.. you call him illiterate. IF nothing else you should be able to back that up before saying because he was supposed to have been reading the holy texts to religious leaders as a child.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Reality

      o The illiteracy of the simple preacher man aka Jesus, as per contemporary experts:

      From Professor Bruce Chilton's commentary in his book, Rabbi Jesus, An Intimate Biography,

      "What Luke misses is that Jesus stood in the synagogue as an illiterate m–amzer in his claim to be the Lord's anointed".

      Note: Luke 4: 16 is a single attestation. No where else in the NT does it say Jesus could read thereby making said passage historically unreliable.

      Professor JD Crossan notes that Jesus was illiterate coming from a landless peasant background, initially a follower of John the Baptist. e.g. The Excavation of Jesus (with Professor Reed), pp 30-31..

      The question of Jesus's literacy has been much discussed in modern scholarship; the Jesus Seminar and others feel references in the Gospels to Jesus reading and writing may well be fictions.

      The only Gospel reference to Jesus writing is John 8:6 in the Pericope Adulterae, widely considered a later addition, where it is not even clear he is forming letters in the dust, and the Greek "εγραφεν" could equally mean he was drawing.

      Luke 2: 41-52, the twelve year old Jesus in the temple- As per Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 275, " the episode is unhistorical" (again, a single attestaion). See also http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?ti-tle=433_Jesus_at_Twelve

      It is very unfortunate that Jesus was illiterate for it resulted in many gospels and epistles being written years after his death by non-witnesses. This resulted in significant differences in said gospels and epistles and with many embellishments to raise Jesus to the level of a deity to compete with the Roman gods and emperors. See Raymond Brown's book, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Luke 4:16 note on p. 237) for an exhaustive review of the true writers of the gospels and epistles.

      Of course, Muslims believe that Mohammed was also illiterate. This way, they can claim that the only way he could have received the "angelic", koranic passages of death to all infidels and Islamic domination of the globe by any means, was orally from Gabriel since he could not read and write. Google it for verification

      June 22, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  15. Marie Kidman

    '
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    June 22, 2011 at 5:05 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.