Westboro Baptist Church: Shirley Phelps-Roper Interview

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Manage episode 333954538 series 3370054
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When you hear people talk about zealots and religious hate groups, you tend to think of some dour old cave dweller with a long beard or a 17th century puritan with an obscenely large and seemingly unnecessary buckle on his hat. You don’t typically think of a smiling, colorfully dressed, personable wife and mother who drops terms of endearment like “hun” into conversation while discussing serious topics such as hellfire and brimstone.

But just down the road from where I live here in Kansas, a small Calvinist protestant congregation – the Westboro baptist church – has made international headlines for their novel approach to funerals. Instead of offering flowers and sympathy cards and attending services for friends and family, they hold signs proclaiming damnation for the deceased and frequently show up at the funerals of strangers.

They’ve also been particularly critical of anyone engaged in sexual activity outside of procreation and male/female marriage.

In fact today, here in Kansas City they are holding a protest against comedian Jim Gaffigan who as they put it was raised in the grotesque idolatry and perversion of the catholic pedophile machine. As a Catholic myself, and coincidentally a fan of Gaffigan, I’ve always been curious about this group not in terms of what they do – as that’s been pretty well documented. But rather why they do it.

The Bible prompts me to go to Mass once a week and to try not to do anything that can’t be offset by a few Hail Marys after confession. The same book or rather collection of books has had a profoundly different impact on them. With covid restrictions still in effect – I reached out to spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper whose father Fred, now deceased, founded the church. She agreed to a Skype interview. Now, this is the bit where ordinarily I’d jump into the audio but on this occasion, I have to offer a trigger warning. It would take a while to list everything that might be triggering in the following interview, but pretty much if you’re not in good standing as a member of the Westboro baptist church then you will hear something from Shirley that could well offend you. If you’re OK with that and like myself curious to hear how they reconcile conventional understandings of Christianity with their activities, then buckle in.

With thanks to Shirley Phelps-Roper and The Westboro Baptist Church

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