Westboro vs. Southern Baptists lefties

Back in my Colorado journalism days, I attended a national conference that drew a wide variety of people who backed the ordination of women. As I walked around the campground scribbling notes (often with a sharp journalist named Douglas LeBlanc), I became aware of just how much diversity was present in that body of believers.

Suffice it to say there were plenty of evangelical women there and ordained Pentecostal women as well, which is fitting since Pentecostal flocks have been ordaining women as evangelists, missionaries and pastors for decades — long before liberal Protestants took that leap. As you would expect in the Rocky Mountain West, there were also plenty of women present from the left side of church aisles, including clergy from Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran (ELCA) and other similar churches.

Then again, there were evangelicals and charismatics from the Episcopal Church, too. It was a complex scene.

I quickly learned that while these women were united in their support for the ordination of women, they often had completely different reasons for this innovation. Also, there were larger issues — moral and doctrinal — that separated them, including issues linked to biblical authority, Christology and salvation. Some of the women had edited, slashed or redefined chunks of the Nicene Creed, while others had not.

But wait, I hear you saying out there in cyberspace, what in the heckfire does this have to do with the Rev. Fred Phelps and his infamous crew from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.?

You see, the editors at Baptist Press recently recirculated a report from 2003 that did something very interesting. It allowed Phelps — whose small, completely independent Baptist congregation is dominated by members of his own family — to answer some basic questions about what he believes and even why he believes it. This included allowing him to bash the Southern Baptist Convention, which he believes is a highly compromised, even liberal, denomination offering what he called a “kiss-pooh” theology of love.

In other words, what we have here is a truly radical figure who, on the surface, may seem to share some important beliefs with the giant SBC, America’s second largest religious body after the Catholic Church. In many mainstream press reports, journalists often assume that Phelps is merely another conservative Baptist, leaving readers to assume that millions of other Baptist conservatives in America — in a wide array of SBC and independent flocks — hold similar beliefs.

In reality, Phelps and the SBC tend to disagree even when it appears that they agree, or they have radically different reasons for believing what they do believe. Like I said, as a journalist I have seen similar things happen on the religious left (take conferences on environmentalism, for example) as well as the right.

Needless to say, the Baptist Press report contains all kinds of things that are sure to tick off liberal Christians of all kinds. But there is much there to interest those who are willing, for journalistic reasons, to listen to the actual voice of Phelps and to hear him state some stunningly radical — and for traditional Christians, heretical — beliefs. There are quotes here worth using again, with proper attribution, of course, the next time Phelps and his crew come to a venue near your newsroom.

Check this out:

To say that his views are on the fringe of evangelical belief would be an understatement. He doesn’t believe the sin of homosexuality is forgivable. Thus, he doesn’t believe that homosexuals can be saved.

“No, I don’t think that homosexuals can be saved,” Phelps said. He pointed to Romans 1, where he says homosexuals have “been given up by God. … It’s the only sin that by definition the adherents are proud of. You’ve never heard of an adulterous pride parade. You’ve never heard of anybody boasting and bragging about their sin.”

Interestingly, Phelps says that he’d “be glad if they all get saved,” although he doesn’t believe it’s possible. Questioned about Christians who have come out of the homosexual lifestyle, Phelps said he has yet to see a solid example.

“I’m still waiting to see one,” he said.

Then there’s the death penalty for homosexuals. Phelps is for it — although not by stoning. He once sent letters to every member of Congress — as well as every United Nations leader — telling them that capital punishment for homosexuals was the first step toward worldwide repentance.

“We [would] do it by lethal injection and other more humane so-called means,” he said. “But however this or that state does it, every last state ought to make it a crime and assess the penalty for it at death.”

Like I said, this will be hard reading for all kinds of people on the left and right. But It’s good to see Phelps spell out his beliefs on the record. File this, if you have a strong stomach.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    What about and the Southern Baptist “righties” since you use the term “lefties” in the title to this piece? I guess the SBC is solely composed of “lefties”?


  • Passing By

    Might one suppose “Southern Baptist lefties” was a bit of irony?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Jerry, Jerry…..

    Are you reading the posts now before or after you get mad?

    Yes, from the perspective of WESTBORO — the subject of the post, after all — the Southern Baptist Convention is full of lefties.

    That was the point.

  • Jerry

    Terry, I had not realized that Westboro was a righty organization, albeit far righty. Thanks for clearing up my understanding of what righties can be like.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    After all of the coverage of their antics, you did not know that the Westboro Baptist folks were on the far, far, far, accurately fundamentalist right? Come to think of it, they are to the right of accurately defined fundamentalism, as a movement.

  • John Willard

    Would it be correct to describe Westboro Baptist as a far right religious group?

    Obviously they hold to some extremely conservative beliefs, but from what I understand many of their doctrines are very different from anything one would find in other ‘righty’ Christian groups. Such as ‘God hates fags.’ wouldn’t that be something of a new doctrine?

  • Euphrosyne

    Sort of off-topic, but, if it turns out that protesters such as Westboro Baptist cannot be legally precluded from turning out to protest at the funerals of our fallen heroes, then when it is feared that some of these individuals might show up, can’t a few well-wishers of the family arm themselves with some spray-on skunk juice and some bright red spray paint, and take care of the problem (the way animal rights activists were doing to people wearing fur coats not so long ago?)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    That is an excellent question.

    They are so far right that they are to the right of biblical fundamentalism. Some of what the church teaches can only be called heresy. That was kind of the point of the post. Even when they AGREE with the right they agree for totally different reasons, which can be seen by their other stances that are, well, somewhere to the right or left or up or down or something of conservatism.

    I mean, they don’t even believe that sinners can REPENT of some specific sins? Huh?

    But that’s why I thought the BP article was worth mentioning. It’s important to have some Phelps material in his own words, answering, or trying to, some basic doctrinal questions.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinjjones Kevin J Jones

    “As you would expect in the Rocky Mountain West, there were also plenty of women present from the left side of church aisles, including clergy from Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Lutheran (ELCA) and other similar churches.”

    As a Denver-area resident, I still don’t have a good grasp on the nature of the local mainline churches and why I should expect these positions from them.

    What’s the history here?

    How can I improve my understanding? Dive into the tmatt archives from your Rocky Mountain News days?

  • Paul Nitti

    This cult, because it truely fits the description, and it’s leader have some serious issues. I have been Catholic and Baptist, now just subscribing to being a Christian. I see no redeeming value to harrassing, and that is what this is, families of deceased service members. Families need time to grieve and shouldn’t have some false prophits anywhere near the funeral. Let them protest at their church. …

    I always thought that freedom of speech, while a right, should be tempered with common sense and civility. I spent 20 years defending God and country to allow them there speaking privilages. Unfortunately we cannot pick and choose who we defend the rights of like those people and their freedom of speech. …

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    My supervisor, a professional illustrator, just looked at the picture above and told me it appears to be altered.

    As you usually give sources, could you illuminate this?

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    My supervisor, a professional illustrator, just looked at the picture above and told me it appears to be altered.

    Just out of curiosity, I studied the picture, and it would appear that your supervisor is right: observe the directions of the shadows cast by the three figures in the foreground; the shadow cast by the woman on the far right (wearing the flag skirt) appears to be pointing to the viewer’s two o’clock, whereas the shadows cast by the other two individuals standing right next to her appear to be pointing toward the viewer’s eight o’clock. Shadows thrown in directions about 180 degrees apart by people standing within no more than eight feet of each other is hardly likely to occur under natural conditions. Would seem to point to after-exposure alteration of image.

  • http://orthodoxconfessions.blogspot.com JLB

    Regarding the photo, there is an ‘eight o’clock’ shadow, albeit a very narrow one, pointing from the woman’s feet, while the ‘two o’clock’ shadow seems to be coming from another object/person, and would thus really be an ‘eight o’clock’ shadow.