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. frank

    Why did Jesus put demons in the poor little pigs and make them kill themselves? Why? WHY!!! What a cruel and despicable man! I hate Jesus! I HATE him!!!!

    June 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • He loves you. He loves you.


      June 17, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  2. JennyTX

    "Ultimately, heaven is God's house. He gets to determine the guest list." – I believe there is plenty of room in heaven for ALL good people and that god doesn't discriminate of the basis of religion (i.e. don't need to be christian to go to heaven).

    June 17, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Jon S.

      What do you mean, all "good" people? What people would you put in Hell?

      June 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  3. Don't you know?


    June 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  4. SB

    Very close to where I live. I've never had an opportunity to see the Phelps circus before. Might just have to pop down to Federal Way to check out the freak show.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  5. David Johnson

    Don't you think it odd, that an all powerful, all knowing, all good god, didn't produce a bible that was not ambiguous? There are about 34,000 different denominations of Christianity. Each, has read the bible and believe their interpretation is the correct one. Many are contradictory. Many believe only their members will be saved.

    I think it very unlikely that the bible is the inerrant word of god. I think it very unlikely that the Christian god exists.



    June 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Why Should I Read The Bible?


      June 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  6. Redeemed Gangsters


    June 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  7. He Loves You


    June 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  8. Tim

    Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church is a joke. They're bigots and gay-haters, who pose behind a costume of "the hip and cool church." I hope both of these churches destroy each other.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • dljr60

      Seems like you have a lot of hate within you.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Will


      June 17, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Will

      dljr... I don't think it is hate. I think it is anger. Jesus became angry at things just as bad. I hope the Holy Spirit brings these people together in love. (smirk)

      June 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  9. george mosko

    The only thing that I can say about westboro is they better stay out of West Virginia–Not only have we enacted laws that prevent their protests but we have a lot of veterans who may not be so receptive as some. These people are stupid..Do they not realize that their asses are free due to our military fighting to keep their freedom...................pitiful............

    June 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  10. Aezel

    In other news the supporters of the Easter Bunny and supporters of Santa Claus will meet and protest each other's world view of imaginary characters they fantasize about.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  11. ralk

    Those red necks can go to h e l l !

    June 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Nursehope

      Please STOP giving these sicko's publicity!

      June 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  12. clarke

    well this should be interesting.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  13. Terry - Indiana

    Tell the crowd what they want to hear – only ask that they leave their money here.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  14. Jack

    The notion that a person's soul will be judged by God is a pagan one and described in detail in ancient Egypt's "Book of the Dead" where the soul is weighed in balance against a feather.

    The idea that we are all unworthy and unable to save ourselves and thus are saved by the Grace of God, as found in the New Testament, negates the very idea of judgement – as it can't be both ways.

    Either God saved us all as a gift by His grace, or he stands in judgement and either finds us worthy or unworthy (yet we're all sinners and unworthy). In short, we're all saved.

    So what are we to do? As Christians we're simply called to appreciate this ultimate gift and act accordingly.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  15. KArl

    Did you really have to plug their website?

    June 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  16. Mike in SA

    If they fell of the face of the Earth...it would be great. Hey, maybe they could take Aaron with them.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  17. scary

    Phelps reminds me of the scary old man in polterghiest that says you're all gonna die in there!

    June 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  18. NoGod?GodNo!

    How many years of doing this an Freddie boy still needs a nametag.

    Check out the two Louis Theroux videos from BBC2 when he went to stay with them for a few weeks.


    June 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  19. Jesus sez Ya!

    Brilliant move on Pastor Driscoll and Mars Hill Church's part. Kill the nutjob with the purest tenets of Chistianity. The ultimate WWJD.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  20. Aaron

    It sounds like a Palin rally in the making.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Macmantoo

      Best comment of them all. Love it.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:24 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.