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. Zelda

    Both churches sound really weird and abnormal. The Bible clearly teaches how to be saved and what condemns people to damnation, although some people's spiritual condition is visibly unknown to other humans. God determines, but His measuring standard is written in the Bible.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  2. GJ

    My relationship with god is my own business and I do not need or want a church, a pastor...a sermon to dictate how my relationship with god should take place. I know the scriptures....and it is up to me and me alone to interpret them. God loves only those who love him, regardless of their sins he loves us equally so long as you accept him with faith in your heart. I know this much is true. All the rest of you are just absolutely nuts in your head.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Church called. They were asking where you were :)

      But had you forgotten these regarding church attendance? 🙂

      Hebrews 10:25, Colossians 3:16, Matthew 18:20, Acts 2:42 Psalm 1:1-6, Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 3:13, Ephesians 4:12, Acts 2:41, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 16:18 , 1 Peter 2:2, James 1:22, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:15, Romans 10:17, Acts 1:8, Romans 1:1-32

      June 18, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  3. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Yes, condemnation of gays is in the Bible... Along with thousands of other great lessons:
    -slavery is okay
    -polygamy is okay
    -fathering children from your slaves is okay
    -a disobedient child must be put to death
    -if one disobeys God then his entire family must die
    -if your brother tries to marry a widow of your late father he must be put to death
    -women must be silent and subserviant to men
    -and of course, eating pork or shellfish is an abomination
    Yes, a lot of things are in the Bible. If you are going to abide by one passage, why not all of them?

    June 18, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • CF

      Because the talking snake who lives in a magical fruit tree speaks with a forked tongue, sometimes.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • you are mistaken

      Even a cursory reading on Christian apologetics, as it relates to each one of your points, can show you how you are mistaken on those matters.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • Denvillian

      Don't confuse the Old Testment with the New Testament. Completely different. Athiests love to quote Leviticius. The God Jesus revealed is one of LOVE.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "Don't confuse the Old Testment with the New Testament. Completely different. Athiests love to quote Leviticius. The God Jesus revealed is one of LOVE."

      So, I'm really curious... how do you Christians know 'when' to quote from the OT to back up your arguments, etc...?

      From what I've seen here and in talking to others....'Christians' love to quote Leviticus, among other OT biblical passages when it suits your fancy, or 'seems' to back up your arguments.

      However, when you get faced with some of the ridiculous contradictions and laws and actions from God in the OT, the response is typically, "but wait... don't look in the OT... look in the NT"

      Pretty hypocritical, IMO.


      June 18, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  4. TruthSquid

    TAX CHURCHES NOW as the marketing-driven commercial businesses they are. They run the greatest scam in history by foisting their property tax, fire, and police burdens onto the backs of non-members. time to end this corruption.

    June 18, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  5. Frank Cardenas

    Driscoll doesn't sound any less nuts than the Westboro people. Sad that 10,000 people a week listen to Driscoll rather than study the life of Jesus intelligently.

    June 18, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  6. Joe Rizoli

    If the Westboro Baptist Church is coming to your town then obviously there is a reason. Either your Christianity has fallen by the wayside and you've compromised the teachings of Jesus Christ, or you simply exist because your church is a social agency concerned with being friends with everyone.

    When you read the NT and in particular the life of Jesus you would see he had ENEMIES. Jesus message did correct WRONG thinking. So to say the WBC is totally wrong would be very unfair and Biblically incorrect.

    Joe Rizoli

    June 18, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Chase Collins

      Someone needs to re-read the New Testament.

      June 18, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Matt

      Oh boy, we've got a live one! Troll alert.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • lilwitchjd

      Really? I live in Seattle and I was an Army brat. Never have I met nicer people than the people of Seattle who truly live by the Golden rule. No, we do not have churches on every corner, we chose to live our goodness rather than just preach it. Westboro Church and the people who support it are hypocrites, hiding behind the flag and the freedom of speech it provides, the very same freedoms that our soldiers have died for. Truly disgusting and disgraceful, I can't wait until these crazies meet St. Peter and do not have dead soldiers to hide behind.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  7. METAL should always be typed in ALL CAPS -- and pronounced in a very loud, very deep voice... M E T A L !



    June 18, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Anthony Fremont

      I'm going to wish these spammy videos into the cornfield.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  8. James Black


    June 18, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  9. Reality

    Both churches "scream" with significant stupidity and yet again add credence to the following:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    June 17, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • True Reality

      It was the "Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants"" that helped build this great country of ours and help give us our 1st amendment right. It wasn't whiners and criticizers like most of these posters. Try a little less name calling in your opinions and contribute some sound thought. This is the same old tired rhetoric we've heard for years.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Geez

      Sad thing is we now have the religion on Atheism screaming equally as loud. It was hard enough to drown the others out. Now we have a new champion entering the arena.

      June 18, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Reality

      Actually, it is rational thinking and common sense that are screaming as they enter the final arena.

      June 18, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  10. ArizonaYankee

    Driscol Who ????? As for Westboro, their is likely an AK47 coming their way soon. They are all demented creeps....

    June 17, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • LMK

      Yes, because violence is always the answer.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I agree with LMK, violence is not the answer plus I heard a interview with the pastor of this church.

      Headstrong is not the word.... A AK-47.. it would be like the scene from Jaws .... "I think you need a bigger boat"

      June 18, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  11. T3chsupport

    What's up with all of these stupid videos? Are people running out of their own opinions, and having to post those of others? Do they think they are going to convince anyone? Do they think anyone is going to watch? I don't understand the point.

    June 17, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • The Secret of the Magic Bacon

      T3chsupport, don't worry, there's a video for you too. You see, this video contains a secret key. You can only obtain the key by watching the video. Once you have received the key, you will be able to unlock the mystery. Behold, I present to you now a deep mystery:


      June 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  12. Lynnkelly

    All I can say is Matthew 25:31-46....
    The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats...who is who?
    Seems like Phelps is the GOAT!
    If he thinks that preaching Hatred is "God's" way, then he is a Baffoon!
    That goes for any person, religion or individual who preaches this hatred bulls#^t!

    June 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      buffoon, buffoon, buffoon!

      June 17, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  13. He's WHO??


    June 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  14. John Pedant

    Phelps: "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."

    No one can deny that this guy is true to his word. If anyone hates God, it is the Westboro church.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • GoodJeans

      That's quite funny. Really!

      June 17, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  15. T3chsupport

    Hey, that's a pretty good idea. I can just imagine them shouting hate while they shove their face full of doughnut and swilling free coffee. Or just standing there yelling at people who just kind of smile at them and turn the other cheek.

    That's them though. If I were closer, I'd be outside with a big bucket of blood (red paint, corn syrup, virgin sacrifice, don't care what kind). Hey, we all have our free speech!

    June 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Hortense and Her Enormous Cat

      4chan usually has a bunch of good ideas about how to deal with these people. I think buckets of diarrheal discharge placed close by combined with lots of assless chaps would be a good start.

      June 18, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Nessa

      Mentos and 2- liter bottles of soda. Doesn't hurt anyone but makes a heck of a statement.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  16. ozrocco

    You can say the same for any religious text, the Koran for example.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  17. He loves you.


    June 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • steven harnack

      No, because something that was never alive cannot be considered to be dead

      June 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Soggy Biscuit Juice


      June 17, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Kool Keith


      June 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  18. steven harnack

    Minus the nuances both groups tell people that they are not worthy. Hopefully one day this will be considered to be human-abuse.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Jon S.

      Steven: You want to arrest all religious people for abuse? Actually, I think *that* would be human abuse.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Dan

      not worthy of what?

      June 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  19. E

    There is nothing wrong with Fred Phelps and co. that a sock full of quarters or a bullwhip can't fix.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • LMK

      I LOVE this! Haha! So very true.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  20. Brian Weseman

    Hi. Westboro isn't a church. It's a legal trolling scheme designed to net the Phelps clan a ton of money. Media outlets are complicit in this for continuing to cover this issue as if it were about freedom of religion.

    It's not.

    Knock it off please.

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

      An organization designed to scam patrons and net the proprietors tons of money? That's a church.

      June 17, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Jon S.

      SB: No, that's a central government.

      June 17, 2011 at 11:05 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.