There’s no doubt that there are real social issues dividing America. Gay marriage, as just one of these many issues, has become a real point of contention as people duke it out on national TV over the privilege of having the intellectual or moral upper hand. The mudslinging can be painfully vicious and ugly to watch.
And then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC).
Widely labeled a “hate group,” Westboro espouses controversial and extreme ideologies, ranging from their “God Hates Fags” website handle to (so as to provide some current context) their “Thank God for the Boston Massacre!” Twitter posts. Founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps, the organization has become infamous across the nation for picketing the funerals of those they deem “unclean” and symbolic of America’s apparent depravity.
The WBC is well known for its aggressive anti-gay rights stance. In fact, this message, liberally peppered with anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, is proclaimed by the church, loudly, at funerals, pride parades and other “nation-threatening” events.
In the following clip, Newsweek reporter and Fall From Grace director K Ryan Jones discusses the WBC. After spending a year following the church, he speaks in an ABC interview about his experience and his understanding of the church and its doctrine.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like hearing the Westboros propound their cause themselves. In this interview with Fox News, WBC spokeswoman Shirley Phelps delineates the church’s views. If not very illuminating, it’s certainly amusing if taken with a grain of salt.
It should come as no surprise to know that the backlash against the Westboros has been substantial. The WBC has earned the dubious distinction of being labeled one of the most widely recognized and most controversial ideological groups in America.
Indeed, the church’s radicalism, however morally unsound and uncomfortable, has had an significant effect on the American psyche. The WBC has left an indelible impact on America in that it has brought together divergent groups and people to criticize it. Such disparate entities as Anonymous, the Patriot Guard Riders and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly have all spoken out against the church and openly criticized its actions and religious ideology. Even the Ku Klux Klan has referred to the church as a “hate mongering group.”
But the Westboros are nothing if not tenacious. Decades of social ostracization (if not in their personal lives, in their public ones) and critical accusations in regards to the church’s moral doctrine have done nothing to stem the tide of the Westboros’ angry hate messages.
This much is immediately apparent with Anonymous, easily one of the best recognized organizations visibly speaking out against the church. The organization releases messages to the church to “cease and desist” with its hate-mongering. However ineffective these warnings may have been with the Westboros, they offer an easy message that Americans well understand. The messages aren’t perfect, and indeed, the manner in which they are conveyed at times leave much to be desired (take note of the awkwardly incongruous music), but they offer more substance to digest than the Westboros do.
If nothing else, these concerted efforts to dismantle the church and to minimize its insidious influence have a role in forming the collective American mentality — or, at the very least, a collective response to the Westboros.
In the second installment of this article, I share an interview with another critic of the WBC.
Brick Stone is easily the most visible Youtube personality in regards to the Westboro Baptist Church. I interviewed Stone’s creator, Dave Sirus, about the satirical figure of Brick Stone and his work against the WBC.
In the second part of the series, available here, you can read the interview and watch some of Brick Stone’s work.