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Westboro Baptist Church has only a few dozen parishioners, but it is known throughout the world. For decades, radical homophobia and calls for executions for homosexual acts have been at the center of its ideology. However, in recent years, their rhetoric has begun to soften, and pickets, which previously provoked mass riots, no longer attract much public attention. In addition to holding anti-gay protests at military funerals, the organization picketed other celebrity funerals and public events that most likely brought it to attention. Protests were also held against Jews, and in some protests, members of the Westboro Baptist Church stomped on the American flag. Being one of the fiercest hate groups in the United States, the Westboro Baptist Church had to tone down its public activity likely after facing the corresponding strong reaction from society.
History and Activity of Westboro Baptist Church
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an American unaffiliated Baptist church known for its extreme views and protests, especially against gay people, a peculiar hate group. The church is in a residential area on the west side of Topeka, about three miles (5 km) west of the Kansas State Capitol. The first public service at Westboro Baptist Church was held on November 27, 1955 (“Westboro Baptist Church”). The church might resemble other typical radical religious societies that are widespread across the United States. However, largely due to the efforts of its founder Fred Phelps and his personal beliefs, the church earned its infamous controversy.
The WBC is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, the church itself describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles. The Baptist World Union and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations) have denounced the Baptist World Network for many years. It was initially led by Fred Phelps, and the church consisted mainly of members of his extended family. Phelps's furious and caustic tone quickly turned most of the flock away from the church, with the exception of his relatives and a few closest friends. Then the pastor broke off relations with the main church, making the Westboro Baptist Church an independent religious organization (“Westboro Baptist Church”). Hence, the organization was apparently initiated as a rather typical baptist group. Yet, as radical attitudes within the community grew, they took yet another form.
From childhood, parishioners were told that the whole world outside the Church is hostile and represents pure evil, the humans inhabiting it is mired in sin and are doomed to go to Hell after death. Most of the participants went to public schools and studied at universities, but the demeanor instilled in them from childhood instantly turned their classmates against the children with aggression and misunderstanding. Thus, the children of the Church were only once again convinced of the hostility of those around them. When they became teenagers, they were forbidden to make any strong ties with their peers, especially romantic ones. The children were brought up with the idea that they should devote their life to the service of the Lord (Phelps-Roper). The main ideas of the church largely resemble propaganda, with facts being exaggerated or manipulated for the “believers” to believe in the universal righteousness of the organization. Such a dangerous tendency has resulted in some considerable action and corresponding reaction.
But the apostates were demonized most of all because all ties with them should be immediately cut off and attempts to restore contact should be stopped. Considering that the parishioners practically did not communicate with people from the outside, leaving actually meant losing all their social ties, all relatives and friends. Only moral pressure was used to keep people in the sect. Over time, his flock grew to about seventy people, not by attracting new members, but due to the fertility of existing ones: Fred himself had thirteen children, and he raised all of them in a severe religious spirit. The church would have remained one of the many small denominations of the American hinterland, if not for the uncompromising position of its leader in relation to homosexuals. As early as 2011, the church claimed to have about 40 members (Phelps-Roper). The picketing, as well as wide and inappropriate anti-gay movements and protests, caused a massive way of criticism and counter-protesting. The church has become known as a hate organization with its members gradually attempting to separate themselves from it.
Among the parishioners, there were many lawyers who perfectly understood how the law works. The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits Congress from supporting any religion, as well as enacting any laws that would restrict freedom of speech. This protected the Church from claims from the state. In order to protect themselves from the wrath of ordinary Americans, the community resorted to the help of the state itself: each time, before going on a picket, members of the community informed the police about their intentions and asked to send several employees so that no one would attack them. And the police, guided by the job description, almost always did just that. This is what allowed the Westboro Baptist Church not only not to become a victim of the violence of others, but also to reach the logical limit in their provocative speeches: picketing the funeral of military personnel.
"Westboro Baptist Church". Southern Poverty Law Center, 2022, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/westboro-baptist-church.
Phelps-Roper, Megan. Unfollow: A Journey From Hatred To Hope, Leaving The Westboro Baptist Church. Hachette UK, 2019.
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