Sunday, May 27, 2012

Surprising Thoughts About the Westboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), well a couple of dedicated protestors from the WBC, visited the Rio Grande Valley for the first time on May 20th. They stopped at a couple of Texas sites before heading down south to the tip of Texas for some classy smothering heat. Yeah, it was too hot. I got together with a couple of the Occupy McAllen folks and we drove a roughly 60 miles to Brownsville, Texas. After a couple of phone calls and navigation planning, we wound up at the first church. The small WBC group stood on the corner across the street while the group of counter protesters stood on the corner near the church.

It was a spectacle, at first, for me. I made a number of inappropriate but we're in the Lord's parking lot statements. Refused to hold a sign for a whole five minutes. I practically stood in the middle of the road to get a good look at the WBC group. I was fascinated by this group of people that preached hate. Well, the cop told me to get out of the road, I took out my cheap cell phone and started snapping some photos. They all came out blue.

Opposite ends of the street!
I began mingling with the crowd. Snapped a couple of (ok) pictures of the counter protesters. I actually asked permission before snapping photos, but didn't ask permission to use them on my blog. But, I'm sure that is ok with me sharing this photo.

I took some pictures then picked up a sign to match my viewpoints.

This is the sign I borrowed from a friend's son.
The police drove by a lot.

There goes, the police, like always.
I became a bit overwhelmed by both sides chants. Nobody might believe me, but I'm one of those people that picks up on other people's emotions. It's not always the emotions that the person is feeling, sometimes it's emotions that are carved deep into a person's subconscious. I couldn't help but feel very bad, and very wrong, feelings from the WBC group. I just had an inkling that there was something deep, something not right underneath those brightly colored signs. Something sinister.

No, it wasn't something Satan-like sinister. It was more human, and very sad. So after I counter protested and got home I began an in-depth search on Fred Phelps, his family, and the WBC. I found two documentaries by Louis Theroux.

The Most Hated Family in America is a 2007 documentary about the family's life that attempts to portray the family members as sensible, normal, and even good natured people. I've actually never met any of the family members, so I can't say if they're sensible or not, but from the video I could deduct that they're convinced of their message. There is no wrong for them and they stick together. That was cool, I guess. Then I found the follow-up documentary.

America's Most Hated Family in Crisis is a 2011 follow-up documentary that speaks to a couple of ex-family members from the original documentary. Louis Theroux really hints that there is something sinister and unbelievably awful behind the whole family's existence. Something like, anger on the part of the family patriarch Fred Phelps. That got me thinking more and I ran a search for one of Fred's ex-children. You know, children he swears are dead because they left the family.

Nine seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, SVU, couldn't have prepared me for what I found. I'm not going to accuse Fred Phelps of being gay. I can't, haven't met the guy and my gaydar sucks. But, I am going to claim that he required a lot of Gender-Reinforcement. Maybe, he really needs to prove to himself that he's a man. Or that he's a straight man. Or that he's a man in the sense of the Bible. There's a short version and a long version of the Fred Phelps story that makes me think this way.

I stumbled upon the first version first. Mark Phelps (Fred's first son) left home as soon as he could. In the 19 years since he left home, he hadn't spoken to his father and answered the occasional question about his time in the Phelps home. In 1993, Mark wrote a letter describing his feelings of "gentleness" for his father. These couple of sentences from the letter reinforce my thinking that there's something seriously wrong with Fred Phelps:
Instead, my father's behavior characterizes, I believe, Hate, Outbursts of Wrath, Contention, Jealousy, Vengefulness, Misery, Harshness, and Selfish ambition. He mis-states the truth about his own behavior, about others, about the Bible, with apparent ease and regularity. He behaves with a viciousness the likes of which I have never seen. He accepts no genuine accountability in his life and is subject to no one. His lifestyle betrays the sacred trust of what a pastor, husband, father and grandfather should be. I suppose if a comparison were made between the life of Jesus Christ and my father, there would not be much to compare.
Even then, Fred Phelps just seemed like an angry guy. I thought, there are angry people everywhere... right? Then I stumbled upon another statement. More graphic and saddening than any SVU episode. I found an account of Fred Phelps beating his sons to a bloody mess, and instantly my stomach clenched. Here's a sample of the pain the Phelps children endured:
The first blow stunned your whole body. By the third blow, your backside was so tender, even the lightest strike was agonizing, but he'd still hit you like he wanted to put it over the fence. By 20, though, you'd have grown numb with pain. That was when my father would quit and start on my brother. Later, when the feeling had returned and it hurt worse than before, he'd do it again. After 40 strokes, I was weak and nauseous and very pale. My body hurt terribly. Then it was Nate's turn. He got 40 each time. I staggered to the bathtub where my mom was wetting a towel to swab my face. Behind me, I could hear the mattock and my brother was choking and moaning. He was crying and he wouldn't stop.
At that point, I couldn't be angry at the WBC. I felt sorry for them. No, not sorry, it's this particular feeling I get every time I hang out near a church, in a church, and most places of worship. That dirty, sinister, blood-filled feeling of everything shameful and regret. The Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church seem like a miserable line of victims. Yes, at first sight they appear like a strongly convinced family living the Good Word. But, that's now how it feels. It feels bad. Feels sad.

1 comment:

  1. Love and forgiveness. The basic tenets of Jesus and God. God created out of love. God saved the Israelites (Jewish people) out of love. God revealed & reveals God's self out of love. LOVE.

    Therefore, as much as this family want to hate me, I can only love the Phelps family. I do not like the way they interact with others and teach children that Got is only about punishment and vengeance. I really don't like how they interfere in the mourning of families over their sons. But if we are to stop this cycle of hate, sadness & expulsion of family members, then the only answer is to love the Phelps family, which MLK jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa & all who have preached the message of love, especially Jesus would say is the right path to God. If God visited today, God would be @ their home spreading the message of LOVE.

    Very important topic. And it's a shame that the media calls them the most hated family. It fuels their campaign and people forget about the real message of love.