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. Beefburger

    I am told that there is someone named Richard Dawkins, yet I have never seen him, so I guess he does not exist. There is this book that is SUPPOSEDLY written by Richard Dawkins, but as I have never seen him writting it I guess then it must be a fable created by others.

    June 18, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Gee, I guess its a good thing this fabled Dawkins doesn't claim to have worked miracles or be the son of god... or even claim that a supernatural god even exists. And maybe you should attend one of his speaking engagements sometime... unlike god or jesus... you can actually meet him face to face.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  2. god is BS

    Stephen Hawking is right on – god's existence is irrelevant.

    Try to ignore that fabled god (I.e. pull your head out of that putrid hole) for one day. Nothing bad will happen! Why stoop that low?

    June 18, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • DMBfan

      Your comment is irrelevant to this article.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  3. I'Zheet M'Drawz

    Just another example as to WHY tax exempt status for religious organizations should be permanently revoked.

    June 18, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • Doug

      I can not agree more.. We could balance our budget, wow, and these people toss money like it's making it right there in the church.. oh wait, they are..

      June 18, 2011 at 6:14 am |
    • Hez123

      Let's take it step further then and drop tax exempt status for ANY organization.

      June 18, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  4. Pops

    "Imagine no religion...."
    -John Lennon

    June 18, 2011 at 5:30 am |
  5. i wonder


    I have read a few articles about the WBC Supreme Court case to which you refer in your article. The case was argued by family member and attorney, Margie Phelps.

    Your article states that daughter Margie is a "Harvard Law-trained attorney". Here is what I found on her education:

    Margie earned her B.A. in Corrections/Criminal Justice in 1978 from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, she received her Juris Doctor from the Washburn University School of Law. In addition, Margie earned her Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Kansas in 1993.

    Certainly no mention of Harvard there. Maybe you will want to check the records on this.

    June 18, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • Jay

      Maybe they are referring to Shirley.

      June 18, 2011 at 5:32 am |
  6. A free man

    All you christians are as annoying as the hell you say I'll go to if I don't listen to you lol
    The Abrahamic religions: worst thing to happen to humanity, responsible for uncountable deaths and wars, hatred etc...

    June 18, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • 11:11

      Way to paint a huge demographic with a sloppy broad brush. You sound like an ignorant, prejudiced bigot.

      June 18, 2011 at 5:05 am |
    • keller

      What an idiot. You read an article about a church as open-minded as this and yet you still spew such garbage? How do you make it through life?

      June 18, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • 105mph

      Nobody is forcing anyone to believe in Christ. The message is preached and you are rejecting it which is your choice. Hell is real and I hope you change your heart. Tell God at judgment it is a joke and see what happens. Good luck.

      June 18, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • JiNk0

      The worst thing to happen to humanity isn't Abrahamic religions. It's militant atheism that has deluded itself into thinking it is any better than religious extremism.

      Fade away, little man.

      June 18, 2011 at 5:10 am |
    • I Don't Get It

      JiNk0: So, voicing an opinion which contradicts yours, and calling your religions to task for their ills is "militant atheism" ?

      June 18, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • Joshua Ludd

      105mph: Yeah, no one is forcing anyone to worship christ..... anymore. Conversion by the sword is a long practiced tradition in christianity. Thankfully today we don't have any christian theocracies left and no governments that force christianity on their populations, so most of the worst crimes the christian church has historically committed are no longer tolerated.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:38 am |
  7. Kool Keith

    You spit all this speech and for what? You're still going straight to hell. May the bowels of hell open and swallow your cold dead corpse for all eternity. may you burn with the pain of 1000 fires, may your family burn with you while all good christians laugh and mock you from our golden thrones!

    Come visit the Westboro Baptist Church! We'd <B to have you here! The people protesting these funerals and DEVIL churches the better! SEE YOU SUNDAY!

    June 18, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • TheRealKoolKeithDoesntHaveAPottyMouthLikeYou

      You may want to consider talking to someone who can help you. Have you tried Jesus? He can help with your anger and hatred. 🙂

      June 18, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • Kool Keith

      I have tried Jesus... he didn't get me quite as high as I'd like...so i switched back to meth. 🙁

      June 18, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • mark

      your imagery of bowels swallowing is a little strange 🙂

      June 18, 2011 at 5:45 am |
  8. jesse

    I find this article hillarious. Not only don't you usually see westboro welcomed, but have you ever seen coffee and snacks for them? Talk about turning the other cheek. I want to see some video of the... exchange... Will westboro take them up on the coffee and such, or will they remain with noses in the air?

    June 18, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • DBlaq

      I can pretty much guarantee they'll keep their noses in the air. That kind of stupidity and ignorance doesn't budge for anything or anyone. They'll take their hatred with them to their graves. I doubt the fires of hell could change their minds. Some ignorance is eternal.

      June 18, 2011 at 4:30 am |
  9. Hercules


    June 18, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  10. Driscoll vs Phelps

    At 1:13 showcases the type of verbal lashing that Phelps could expect to receive if he crosses Driscoll the wrong way. 😀


    June 18, 2011 at 2:32 am |
    • Pus5yWag0n

      Driscoll is a huge pu55y. Phelps would mop the floor with him and then p!ss on him for good measure.

      June 18, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  11. Zelda

    @Kathleen, I'm not black but my home countries suffer/ed hellish oppressions from atheists I get concerned about USA. Communists didn't impose us perversion like secular American whites, however. I hope you'd stop that now. It's bad for our children and for the planet.

    June 18, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Well, Zelda... despite the crimes committed by communists... whose crimes were not solely or primarily motivated by their religion or lack thereof but by their politics... those committed in the name of god, especially the christian god far far outweigh them.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  12. Zelda

    Americans should learn the Bible and at least the British history to understand your own ideals. Otherwise, you will lose your ID foolishly. Stop looking down on the Christian European heriatge. You may have become stronger than Europeans now, but being puffed up never profits you.

    June 18, 2011 at 2:16 am |
  13. STAND UP


    June 18, 2011 at 2:11 am |
    • Pus5yWag0n


      June 18, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  14. YourMomListensToKoolKeith AndSheLovesIt


    June 18, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • The Mighty THOR

      It sounds like you could really use the love of Jesus in your life. 🙂

      June 18, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Captain

      Or at least the love of Odin the All-Father

      June 18, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  15. Zelda

    I think the secular white people have some bad traits such as being prone to skin cancer; the reason they choose to become gay. Or the lack of intimacy during the baby-hood.( Why don't American mothers sleep with the babies at night?) Or the pollution effects. Or simply inclination to moral chaos. Americans have some unique defects from having a short national history such as self-smartness though having a short history brings strengh at times. Every race and national has unique deffects.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      Please go back to the 1980s video game you came from, and sell crazy there. We're all filled up here, Zelda.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • Ronnie Harper

      This is an insightful comment. We're very young, and surprisingly unwilling to look at older nations around the world for guidance.

      June 18, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • Kathleen

      Anytime I see a comment this unhinged, I pretty much assume it's from a religious nut. To be more specific in this case, Zelda has pretty much identified herself as a low-information black female churchgoer. Right, Zelda?

      June 18, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • keylargo

      Among other problems Zelda can't spell! Skin cancer? WHAT???

      June 18, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  16. CityTrucker

    Even the Devil can quote scripture for his own purposes. So does everyone else.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  17. Who is Jesus?


    June 18, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  18. GloSeattle

    Can't remember which commedian did this, but she donated 1k for every Westboro protester who showed up to a gay organization – I think that's a great idea. We should do telethons across the country everytime they show up and get pledges to donate to an organization helping to prevent gay violence, etc... Perhaps if their actions yield a result they despise, they'll stop showing up and we can be rid of them!

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

      You can go to Phelps-a-thon.com to donate to organizations picketed by Westboro Baptist Church.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • dorothy

      It was Lisa Lampinelli

      June 18, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  19. Jesicca

    Though I do not agree with Westboro Baptist Church its hard for me to understand how any pastor would miss preaching the word of God to his church on a sunday morning because he is going to his sons' baseball game or even let his son play in it for that reason. He shouldnt be placing baseball before God..

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

      The church of baseball is is definite. Church of God is science fiction.

      June 18, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • CityTrucker

      Why not? Doesn't god personally endorse any number of ballplayers and winning teams every year?

      June 18, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • Chris

      Where in the Bible does it say that you have to be at Church every Sunday, and don't try and give me that bullcrap, taken out of contest verse, "Do not forsake the fellowship of your brothers in Christ." Fellowship simply means friendship, and being a friend, and loving his son falls into that category. People like you tick me off almost as much as the Westboro baptist people, Christ himself threw a few curses at the Pharisees for being too nit picky about "rules" instead of just loving God and people.

      June 18, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Luke

      He said he is pre-taping it. His sermons are already video based at most of the Mars Hill campuses. What's the difference?

      June 18, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • A free man

      I imagine that he's trying to be a good father to his son by spending quality time with him

      June 18, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Alleli

      Get off your high horse Jessica and see that Driscoll is just trying to be a good father and family man. How can you possibly expect him to be a good example to a congregation of that magnitude while not setting a good example in his own household?
      Put that aside and ask, don't pastors deserve vacations too? Does he have other peers and colleagues he trusts his church to? If not, that would make him a sorry excuse for a leader.

      June 18, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  20. Peter E

    Protestantism is one of the biggest hypocrisies known to man. It started on the tenet that no earthly authority, like the Church should dictate you, that you have your own relationship with God without others interfereing, that you should be able to read and interpret the Bible for yourself because God speaks to everyone.
    And in the fine print of those tenets is: 'Yes, you should be able to interpret the Bible for yourself, as long as it is the same strict interpretation that MY favorite pastor/other favored authority has indoctrinated in me.'
    Fun fact you can look up: puritans, who we modern Americans hold in regard as heros, as 'champions' of 'religious freedom' practiced one of the most restrictive form of Christianity ever. They even outlawed the celebration of Christmas because it was not in the Bible and therefore it was heresy.

    June 18, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      I find it fascinating how each particular flavor of religious nuts are supremely confident that it's the other flavors that are the crazy ones, and they're the ones who really get it.

      All of you sheep are in the minority, when it comes to your own particular cultish beliefs.

      You're all completely full of it.

      June 18, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • George

      Nate: Your post reminds me of a story I heard from a friend of mine (he and I are both Baptists). The story goes something like this: A man dies and goes to heaven. He gets to the pearly gates and St. Peter shows him around. They go to this big hall where St. Peter says all the faithful live. He goes into a large hallway and they go up to the first room. St. Peter says "This is where the Catholics live", and shows the man a room with a group of people, all saying the rosary and crossing themselves. They go to the next room, and St. Peter says, "Here are all the Pentecostals"; the room is filled with people jumping around, waving their arms, and speaking in tongues. St. Peter proceeds down the hallway showing the man all the different demoninations in their various rooms; Lutherans, Episcopaleans, Methodists, etc. At the end of the hallway is a large oak door with a big lock on it. St. Peter unlocks the door and says "Shhh! Be quiet when you enter this room." The man is allowed to peek into the room, and sees a group of people standing around quietly praying and reading the bible. They leave the room and St. Peter carefully and quietly locks the door. Once outside, the man says, "What was that all about?" St. Peter replies, "Oh, that's the Baptists; they think they're the only one's here."

      June 18, 2011 at 4:54 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.