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. Corvus1

    Well I was liking this guy until he decided misogynistic slurs were in order. Sigh.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  2. John Rosehill

    The 11th commandment: Keep thy religion to thy selves.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • SB

      Hear, hear.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Jon S.

      And you get to decide how other people are allowed to worship? Maybe you need to keep *your* beliefs to yourself.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  3. Ronald Raygun

    if god hates everyone so much, why doesnt the creator ever protest with them?

    June 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  4. Randoms

    Religion is such a hypocrisy...Love thy neighbour unless they have a different god or belief. Preach inwardly, and stay out of people's lives when they obviously don't want your guidance.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  5. Goddog

    FINALLY!!! People that I don't care about fighting against other people that I couldn't care less about. Thank you Ford Cheeses!!

    June 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  6. jason

    "No self-loathing for me thank you vey much...well except for the kind that compels me to ridicule people who believe differently."
    There, fixed that for ya.

    June 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Amazing how definitions for words carry so little weight with some people...but thats OK...feel free to invent your own...you already have most of us scratching our heads trying to figure out what you're saying. As for ridicule...well most theists make so many unsupported cliams that it's difficult to avoid pointing out the absurdity. Unsupported claims merit unsupported criticism. Frankly I'd be happy to just ignore your mythologies and mind my own business if it wasn't constantly being shoved in my face, ever insinuating it's dogma into government or schools and repeatedly messing with civil liberties and human rights.
      But back to my original posting which had to do with the 2 churches differing views on the love of Jesus.
      So God (who I don't believe exists) who so loved mankind that he gave his son Jesus (who even if the man did exist,which I doubt, was just a preacher) to be sacrificed to atone for the sins (sin=defiance of God's will, so also doesn't exist) of mankind.
      To view christianity from outside is to recognize not the love of Jesus but the oppression of the Abrahamic God. A wrathful God that must be feared and obeyed. Man's soul (which again I don't believe exists) is tainted with sin, unpure and must be cleansed. This self-depricating woe can only be remedied through following the doctrines and tenets of the Faith. By accepting Jesus as the Savior. The ego manipulative structure of Christain faith is so obvious. The religion ensures it's own survival by first convincing you that you are diseased and then offers the cure(which is of course a lifelong pledge to allegience and breeding more converts). To an atheist it would almost seem funny if it wasn't so morally reprehensible and repugnant.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Where's La Chapparita? These are her peeps.

    June 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Goddog

      No one believes in El chupacabra, fool!

      June 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  8. GOD

    It is so sad that the states that are red states during elections care so little about education. It creates fa99ots like the WBC, when you care less about educating others.

    June 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • lynseypug

      I'm not sure how a lack of education leads to things like the WBC when in fact, one of the main members of the Phelps family and Spokesperson for the church is a Harvard educated attorney just like President Obama.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'd like a citation for that claim.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • heliocracy

      It's actually true...up to a point. If you compare average educational attainment with voting patterns among the states, there's a strong correlation between low levels of education and voting Republican. However, if you dig a little deeper you find something just as telling–among people with very high educations you find a swing back toward the GOP. The most reasonable explanation is that the stupid and the rich both tend to be Republican. If that surprises you, of course, you simply aren't paying close attention.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • i wonder

      It looks like the 3 "main mouths" who I looked up got their law degrees from Washburn Law School in Topeka, Ks. Several others in the family did the same.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • The Westboro Asylum for the Mentally Feeble abd Pathologically Stupid

      The Washburn Beauty Academy and Law School in Topeka? That's the 17th best continuation high school in Topeka! I'm impressed!

      June 18, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Nonimus

      Not sure about the entire family, but winning a case before the SCOTUS ain't chopped liver.

      June 18, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. JMK

    For all of those bashing religion and Christianity, I think this article shows both the good and bad religion can cause. Love and Hate. Tolerance and Ignorance.

    June 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • NoGod?GodNo!

      It's all lies, sweetheart

      June 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  10. AtheistSteve

    "This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Wh.ore House for God's Grace and Free Donuts," Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle announced on his blog.

    Poking fun at his own church? Or leaking out the truth that he keeps subtly hidden from his flock while he continues to fleece them.

    This whole salvation/atonement idea that has all the christians wallowing in their own self-perceived wretched unworthyness is one of the main reasons I'm so happy to be an atheist. No self-loathing for me thank you vey much.

    June 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Corvus1

      Just complete and total self-absorption.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Udontknow

      he who does not believe in anything will believe anything. You seem not to believe in anything, let me ask do you believe in oxygen? you cant see it,cant smell or touch it and thats probably your whole basis for not believing in anything. Please by all means do not accept anything that you can not personally verify does exist, please. One last note before I leave IF YOU ARE LIVING LIKE THERE IS NO GOD, YOU BETTER HOPE YOU ARE RIGHT. THE PAINS THAT AWAIT YOU.

      June 18, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • GOD loves you 2

      I dont believe in atheist

      June 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • handsoverears lalalalala

      Hey Steve how does this Atheism work, I got a water bill for 400.00 USD I could not believe it was so high. If I dont believe it do I have to pay for it? can you call my water board and represent me?

      June 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Ok..please tell me where you folks got your education so I can warn my friends to keep their children away. What ya'll don't seem to get is that it's YOU people who are trying to sell the Imaginary Bus Ticket to Paradise...and well me and the other atheists just ain't buying it...Ya digg?? Answering your pathetic rebutals is beneath me. Great Zeus' Beard if you spent your time and money aquiring an education and a landed a decent job you could pay your entire neighbourhoods water bill....D'uh morons.

      June 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  11. John

    Excellent article Eric! Thank you Mark for what Mars Hill represents, namely Jesus Christ, God's son, who came to say how much and how far He is willing to go to say, "I love you!"

    June 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Lynn

      I don't think Westboro will be impressed with this "love." Speaking generally, if people feel strongly about a subject, what they want is respect for what they are saying or discussion about the topic. Taking their points seriously would be a way to show them "love," not smiling and donuts and coffee and putting on a sweet little mask so the world can see how "loving" you are.

      Think about it: What interests the Westboro people? What do they consider important? Taking God's word seriously, right?

      June 18, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  12. frank

    I like pork chops.

    June 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  13. James Black


    June 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Valina


      June 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  14. Emily

    I think you might be right, Jon.

    Bad spelling aside, based on the quote from WB, it seems like they didn't do enough research before planning to protest.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Aurick

    Actually, Unlimited Limited Atonement states that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind but is only applied to those who are elect.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • jefe

      two points for you! 🙂

      June 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  16. GAW

    Maybe just maybe sometime soon the media.and everyone else will ignore these guys and they will go away. But for now they are like a giant monster attacking a city. The military attacks and finds out the monster only gets stronger.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Q

    "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"

    LOL! Well, this is certainly a refreshingly honest perspective on interfaith dialogue...

    June 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • rachelle

      Amen to that.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  18. Jon

    "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."

    I think they got Mark Driscoll's church confused with Rob Bell's church. Both are named Mars Hill. It sounds like they mean to protest the content of Bell's "Love Wins" book which has been said to teach universalism.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Well, it would come as no surprise that they are too stupid to know which church to protest.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • JL

      they are actually protesting another church in federal way too, plus 2 events up in seattle. I think we were just convienent 🙂 close to the 'ol hotel or something.

      June 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  19. Chase


    June 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  20. tbubb

    "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."

    Doesn't Driscoll preach "Unlimited Limited Atonement" ?? Meaning....... they're picketing him for something he doesn't believe or teach? As a Calvinist, he doesn't think Jesus died for the sins of all mankind (unless he jumps through some hurdles and plays some crazy word games), he believes Christ only died for the Elect.

    June 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Taryntula

      Hey tbubb...I think that might be a simplified view of Calvinism. Jesus died as a gift to all who would accept that gift. If we accept that gift, we are the elect. If we do not, we are not part of the elect. The elect just means that God knew who would accept his salvation from the beginning of time, and he still chose to create everyone, even those he knew would reject him. God does love all, but not all love God. God is also just, and that is where eternity comes into play.

      Also, Westboro BC is an abomination and a cult, so of course they would picket anything that doesn't agree with them. They are like most cults...my cousin is a part of a cult that claims to be Christian, and they also preach hate and picketed Billy Graham and other famous evangelists. WBC is just full of a bunch of nuts, and I'm glad Driscoll is turning the other cheak and loving them even though most people wouldn't think they deserve it. THAT, is truly Christian, no matter Calvinist or not.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • rachelle

      Driscoll is not a 5-point Calvinist. He does believe that Christ died for all but he believes that not all will elect to follow him. as he likes to say: "Christianity is all inclusive" all can come to Christ. But it is exclusive in that there is only ONE way there and that is faith in Jesus. So he stands a firm line in what it takes to be saved, that there is only one God and one way in. But that all are welcome. All races, ages, genders, all sinners of all sorts.

      It is one of the most controversial and confusing points of Christianity, in my opinion. But Taryntula has it right.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • tbubb


      "Jesus died as a gift to all who would accept that gift. " <– that's what Driscoll believe and it's exactly what I said. Unlimited Limited Atonement (according to Driscoll) means Christ died "in a sense" for everyone (meaning everyone is exposed to the benefits Christ's payment has made as it's affected the world), but only in a "saving way" for the Elect.

      So he doesn't believe that "Jesus died for the sins of all of mankind." I dug my teeth into Calvinism and latched onto Driscoll for quite some time–if this isn't what you've heard him preaching, then he's changed his theology in the past year or so.

      He certainly doesn't believe that your election is conditional on you, either–where did you get that idea? He absolutely believes in Unconditional Election.

      I don't know why I'm trying to clarify any of this. Calvinism is an absolute poison, I just thought I'd point out how silly it is they're protesting against something Driscoll doesn't preach. Never mind the silliness of a church protesting another church.

      June 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • jefe

      calvinism is an absolute poison? why thinketh thou so?

      June 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
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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.