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)
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    June 18, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  2. DrJStrangepork

    This guy is a real piece of work. There are kids of his that have removed themselves from his cult because the guy is abusive and a rage-aholic. I hope when he dies that will be the end of it, but it is just as possible their message delivery will escalate to violence. I bet the FBI has undercover people in the WBC.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  3. Nancy M. B.

    Westboro goes in hatred to protest this church's beliefs and are met with donuts, high-fives, and "How're ya doin'?" That ought to drive them completely around the bend!!! (And it couldn't happen to a "nicer" bunch!)

    June 18, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  4. Neecee

    Our governor brown back has a road map, and were gonna get rid of those phelps. We don't like them at all here in topeka. I agree we should stop with all the unwanted attention.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  5. doogie

    God loves people, but hates sin.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • patrick

      There is zero evidence god exists. Your statement is invalid.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • John

      There's really not much evidence for the Big Bang Theory, either. Scientists still can't explain where all the matter and energy came from, why certain laws of physics are precisely what they are, or why the galaxies are actually speeding up in complete defiance of the laws of physics. Dark energy is theorized, but would have to be increasing exponentially from nothing to truly be responsible. By your argument, then, the Big Bang didn't happen, either...unless you can somehow prove conclusively that there is no God.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • PJB1775

      Patrick, shut up.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • JohnR

      @John There's quite a bit of evidence for the big bang. But there are also many outstanding questions. So scientists are out there gatherign evidence and working on various theories. It's real work, unlike the facile "faith" in god. It's a matter of intellectual integrity.

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

      What is the difference between faith in science and faith in God? That science is provable? Nearly every theory about science has been disproven or has led to more questions. There was evidence once upon a time for the world being flat and all the celestial bodies orbiting around it. Theories change, which actually make them less steadfast than religious faith. That science is more readily observable? If all things undetectable are obviously false, then science should never have postulated string theory, multiple dimensions, dark matter, etc. Is it so different to say, "Science has so many questions and holes in its theories, but I believe anyway," than it is to say, "There are so many things I don't know about God, but I believe anyway?"

      June 18, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  6. busgirl

    Sandra dont stop being a christian. Look to God not people. People will allways mess up and sin. Look at Jesus for your example of how you should live. Dont give up.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • dwerbil

      By all means, and don't forget Matthew 15:4 (Honor your father and mother; kill your disobedient children.)

      June 18, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  7. Jeff McCoy

    After reading some of these posts, I now see why people struggle so much with life. Christianity is based on faith. If you have none, God has no time for you. A real pity.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • dwerbil

      Think about it....why should any one take someone in friendship that, if you reject them, they would want to punish you with eternity in hell fire.
      How sick is that?

      June 18, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  8. Philojazz

    Those on both sides of this "controversy" are rather pathetic. Why not just stay at home, have a cookout with your family, play some softball, and end the day watching the sunset together. "God" has got nothing to do with your lives, let alone "Jesus". Get real, folks, in the clearest sense of the term, and your lives will both simplify and improve.

    June 18, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  9. Lynn

    What do they "deeply disagree" on exactly? How the Bible is presented? Doctrine?

    June 18, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  10. babwu

    Funny about the daughter representing them in court...I thought the bible also says something about women not speaking out, deferring to men, etc. Wonder why God wouldn't hate her too...

    June 18, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  11. Karyn

    I actually think this is a GREAT idea. It completely deflates all their power. Way to go Pastor Driscoll. Think about it – everyone could somehow just ignore them, they would have NO POWER at all.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  12. Sandra

    People like the Westboro members are the reason I quit being a Christian.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • SA

      If your faith depends on fringe people, then that wasn't really faith. If everybody gave up their beliefs because of fringe people, we wouldn't be standing for anything.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • JohnR

      Yes, the existence of fringe people is a bad reason to give up faith. A good reason is that faith is an abdication of reason.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • JD

      Sounds to me like that is just an excuse for not going to church. If you don't want to go, don't go. I don't go every Sunday for reasons of my own but I'm still a Christian. I don't follow the teachings of man. I follow the teachings of Christ.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • paul

      I got bad news Sandra, you were probably never truly one anyhow.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  13. Spunk

    Thank god there is no god.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Fred

      Subconsciously we all make a god(s) in our lives. Money, power, work, sports, war, patriotism.

      June 18, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  14. 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 18, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  15. pam

    For the first time I actually read an article that involves this (WBC) hpyocritical church. Whenever I look at photo's of Mr. Phelps I see a dark, hateful and depressed spirit. Hmmm... seems like Mr. Phelps finds comfort in God's Wrath (Old Test) instead of the Beautiful Light of Jesus and the Fruits of the Spirit he offers us here on earth. It's obvious where Mr. Phelps is rooted and it's not in the heart of God's new covenant that's offered through Yeshua, the Messiah.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  16. God


    June 18, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • asrael

      And yet we comment...

      June 18, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  17. God

    Actually, God hates Westboro.... I outta know1

    June 18, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  18. keylargo

    Sooner or later, someone, some place is not going to be so civil to the Westboro Baptist Church, and someone is going to get hurt.

    June 18, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • John

      I honestly hope not. Not because I agree with WBC – I think it would be difficult for them to be more wrong – but it would only fuel their fire. I don't know that Mars Hill's approach is going to dissuade them at all, but at least I believe it is what Jesus would have wanted them to do.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • JohnR

      @John So Jesus gave ineffectual advice?

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

      Ineffectual and incorrect are different things. Parents tell their kids the right things to do, teachers teach the right way to solve problems, etc., but how often are they listened to? Whether WBC changes is up to them, not up to Mars Hill. I'm only saying Mars Hill is doing what they should be doing.

      June 18, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  19. Shannon

    They (WBC) sure do need Jesus.

    June 18, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  20. David8067

    I'm always fascinated by the hypocrisy when one sect opposes another. Isn't the whole concept of "religion" based around nothing more than blind faith in one's beliefs? Who is to say that this wacky Phelps bunch, with their faith in thier beliefs, are any more or less correct than the popsickle stand on the next corner?

    June 18, 2011 at 6:47 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.