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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)
  1. msadr

    Finally, a Christian response to these people.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  2. Dave L.

    It's a beautiful thing when you see a Christian acting in a Christian manner. This Seattle pastor knows his stuff. God bless him.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  3. oneSTARman

    The ONLY reason any of US have HEARD of WESTBORO is because the MEDIA uses them to CREATE cheap NEWSINESS to pump into your Eyeballs – 24/7

    June 18, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. phoenix

    kudos to wbc the best bible scholars in the land keep the heathen guessing amen

    June 18, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • redragon

      The best bible scholars are usually atheists... who know the whole thing is a great work of fiction.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • YBP

      Amen, redragon. No one he really reads that ancient tripe can possibly believe it. We have. We've even studied it.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  5. God NotAmused

    It's another sad day in Heaven whenever these people show up. God is indeed saddened and not amused.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • oneSTARman

      When these People "Show Up" in Heaven before the God of All People – I think it will be a RIGHTEOUS Day.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  6. Hilarious

    Humanism. lol.

    Human nature can be pretty ugly. You make the point yourself with your ridiculous arguments about religion.
    If man made up religion in order to control each other/gain power over others/etc, then what does that say about human nature?
    You can't blame gods you say don't exist for actions of the human beings you are claiming are so worship worthy. Which is essentially what you are saying, you would prefer to worship human nature above all else. lol. Human nature is not always honorable. And there are people who have no belief in god/s whatsoever who kill and maim and abuse.

    And before you start screaming – I'm not a religious person. Just a practical one.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  7. morris2196

    The WBC is no more a church than I am a tuna fish. Their actions and message differ greatly from the teachings of Jesus. What they are is an extended family who members have been brainwashed by the family patriarch, who has gone crazy.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      They're not crazy. They're manipulative lawyers who know how to manipulate people in such as way as to be able to sue them and make money. They pretend this is about god. It isn't. They probably don't even believe in god. It's about money and how to be shrewd lawyers. They're not crazy: they're manipulative lawyers.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  8. paul

    I used to be disgusted,now I'm just amused

    June 18, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  9. Mark Yelka

    Follow the money trail. Phelps doesn't do this for god or belief. He does this for a living. He's a lawyer and makes money by suing people. People who accept his stated premise that this is about god are just gullible. He just wants people to react in a way that enables him to sue them. Follow the money trail.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Randall

      No, he truly believes what he preaches. If he was after money he wouldn't have been in the civil rights movement, and he probably pays more defending himself in court than he makes winning cases.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      I still say: follow the money trail. I don't believe his words. Why should anyone believe his words? Is he so beyond reproach that I should believe what he says? No, I believe that he is a shrewd lawyer who knows how to manipulate people. I'd love to have some investigative reporter follow the money trail and tell us all!

      June 18, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  10. TruePatriotZ

    There is a very thin line between a rightwing conservative and a member of Westboro Baptist.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • morris2196

      There is a big difference between the two. No, I am a bleeding heart liberal.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  11. paul

    @ humanism stupid,who said I was a Christian duchebag,I cant stand atheist,or the WBC.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  12. mikey

    The difference between your statement and my statement is, you believe 100% that there is no God. My statement is I am 100% positive (I KNOW) that God does exist. On what "facts" has anyone ever been able to discredit the bible? It still hasn't been proven wrong, and since it is God's word it won't be proven wrong. I'm actually astonished at your faith because it takes more faith to say there is no God and believe it, then to say there is a God and believe it.

    June 18, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Dustin

      /tickle

      June 18, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • bananaspy

      For every one of you retards that "knows" *your* god exists, there's another one of you claiming they "know" *their* god exists, What you claim to know doesn't matter, it's what you can show to be demonstrably true. If you really believe the Bible hasn't been discredited, you have a lot of information to catch up on. Please bone up on your 4th century history, then come back to us when you "know" something of value.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  13. James Black

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    ..

    June 18, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      It was a wonderful idea of Jesus Christ, to create butterflies. How beautiful they are.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  14. mikey

    Don't hate the sinner, hate the sin. People, people, why do you feel the need to bash on Jesus all the time? Because, of you not having peace or an understanding of who you are in this world with REAL perspective doesnt mean no one else does. Because He isnt there for you doesnt mean He isnt there for all. I am absolutely 100% positive that God not only exists but also made Himself known. I don't care if you bash on me, I find it rather amusing to be honest, and it also makes me happy. "If people hate you, you must be doing something right." Good Day! and God bless!

    June 18, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • JohnR

      Another case of self-absorbed persecution complex. How special.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Abraham Lincoln

      I believe 100% that god does not exist and that the stories of his existence are fabrications stemming from primitive man's inability to comprehend the world around him. The difference between your belief and mine is that all observable evidence points to my beliefs being fact and yours being fantasy. Logic bless you.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Jesse

      I agree with you Mikey, except for the old mantra saying, " love the sinner hate the sin." The Bible does not say that anywhere. Ghandi said that. I am not saying it is a bad ideology to live by.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • David

      If God is such a know commodity, why are churches tax exempt for marketing afterlife insurance for the Man?

      June 18, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @JohnR

      Hi JohnR!

      How do you do?

      June 18, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Brad Hensley

      @Jesse, Ghandi actually got a lot of his life lessons from the bible, believe it or not. Even though Ghandi was "quoted" saying that, I think what Mikey is saying is merely what the entire bible shows us. It may (or may not) say it verbatim in there but the message is clear to "Love the sinner, hate the sin".

      June 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  15. midogs2

    A message of love.
    A message of hate.

    June 18, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  16. Zelda

    The secular white Americans have some gene defects and that's why they become gay. They need help.

    June 18, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • byrd1

      Your in-depth scientific study just may have a flaw or two. By the way: it sounds like you are protesting just a wee bit too much. Ya know what a trained (as opposed to your qualifications...) psychologist would say about that, eh??

      June 18, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Abraham Lincoln

      And what about the religions non-white gays. You realize there are plenty of those as well, right?

      June 18, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Zelda

      @Byrd1, seriously, honest scientists must look into the defects in non-believers' mind. They are not normal regarding morality. They can't accept things that are normal as normal and abnormality as abnormal.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Ginamero

      Ha Ha....that's why so many Brothers are giving their Sistahs HIV....because white people are gay. Honey...go to a gay bar...you will see things that make you go, "Ummm" If only white people were gay you wouldn't have so many fabulous gay black or Hispanic or Asian men....dig your head out of the sand.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Zelda

      @Abraham, no, secular whites are overwhelming. Some gays pretend to be religious but they are not. Worshippers of self and s-e-x, maybe.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Zelda

      The colored gays leraned it from the white gays. Stop your immoral imperialism. Your slave-owning ancestors were 1 million times better than you.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  17. Me

    Another reason/proof religion is nothing but a joke these days!

    June 18, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Chumlee

      Try reading the story instead of being ignorant and trying to ram your half @ssed notion that there is no God into every stroy that is on the internet.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  18. Don

    GOD HATES Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church OF INCEST!

    June 18, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  19. paul

    You FU#$%IN atheists are pathetic azzhoes,nobody tries to shove anything down your throats,your a bunch of paranoid losers who gotta jump in a conversation whenever God is mentioned,if your so sure there is no God, why do you scream so loud to prove your point.Crawl under a rock,will ya!

    June 18, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Chumlee

      Amen Brother!

      June 18, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Convinced

      Spoken like a true servant of Christ. You made a believer out of of me. LMAO

      June 18, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Plato

      Paul must be a Pailn-ite

      June 18, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • It's Humanism stupid!

      @ Paul
      What's an azzhoe? As for the rest of the thoughtless drivel you thought was worth posting, I just have one question. Are all Christian fundamentalists as brilliant as you and the Westboro Baptist gang?
      Where do I sign up?

      And you don't speak for actual Christians. Jesus would take one look at you and punch you in the nuts (assuming you have any).

      June 18, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • JohnR

      The only reason Christians don't try to push anything down anyone's church is because of the rise of humanism and its civilizing tendencies. Left unchecked, the church would still be waging religious wars, holding inquisitions, witch burnings, etc.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Abraham Lincoln

      The irony of your statement is that it is not in reply to anything. So in reality, you are the one "scream(ing) so loudly to prove your point".

      June 18, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Blue

      Hey Paul, sorry to burst your bubble and not to "scream/prove a point" however religion only exists for the weak-minded. All who believe so strongly only do so to fill some void/gap. All religion has always in the long scheme of things brought hate, war, death, etc. All in an effort to what? Prove your God is better than his/her God? Foolish. Poor simple-minded folk..keep on believing.

      June 18, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @JohnR

      Please don't accuse the Christian Church for crimes, commited by the Roman Catholic Church.

      June 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  20. Ben

    That guy needs to take off the Jayhawk, the University of Kansas and all of us alumni DO NOT want to be represented by a guy like that. Take it off, you are not worthy to wear it.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:58 am |
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About this blog

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.