1. The WB Church on Picketing Funerals, Music and Eating Your Babies

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    Steve Drain, member of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting in front of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City. A former documentary filmaker, he is not related to the Phelps family. He is in charge of WBC multimedia projects.  The Westboro Baptist Church has become notorious in the United States for picketing the funerals of fallen US soldiers.  Their claim is that god is punishing America for allowing gay rights. (Dan Morris)Ever since they made headlines in 1998 with their controversial picket of Matthew Shepard’s funeral, I have followed the Westboro Baptist Church with near-morbid fascination. Originally infamous for their website godhatesfags.com, in the last decade, they have expanded their online presence to include the many other subjects of God’s hate, including: American Soldiers, Jews, President Obama, Catholics, the media to name a few.  With an annual travel budget of over $200,000, they have the opportunity to picket as many as 6 to 15 locations per day in all 50 states, often targeting funerals of homosexuals and fallen soldiers. With all of this controversy, questions naturally arise regarding excessive free time, and the tax free status of religious organizations.

    Perhaps the strangest site in their online quiver is godhatestheworld.com.  On this website, the user can select a country on an interactive map of the world and see a detailed explanation of why God hates said country. The reason for god’s hatred usually takes some form of homosexually permissive argument ad infinitum.  Take Italy, for example.  According to godhatestheworld.com, “There are no sodomy laws in Italy. There are no laws against fags in the military and the age of ‘consent’ is 14. Or, better stated, the expected age to which you can fornicate your brains out is 14…”  Or Papua New Guinea, a seemingly harmless country struggling to shed it’s 3rd world staganation, “PNG is a HOT MESS! With the protection of little to no police, civilians are left to fend for themselves. Citizens are not covered with adequate health care and diseases roam the land. Of course, you can’t ignore the many natural disasters that occur on frequent intervals in the land. God has brought His wrath down on these people and they are too blind to see it past all their voodoo nonsense. PNG is doomed!” It seems hard to argue with that logic (?). Strangely, their map currently has every country covered except for Suriname, Iceland, Latvia, Sierra Leone, Western Sahara, Kyrgystan and last, but least only in size, Lesotho. Each of these countries is labeled, “coming soon.” Apparently the jury is still out.

    I was surprised when a friend mentioned to me that the WBC would be Rachel Hockenbarger, protesting in front of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.  She is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and daughter of Pastor Fred Phelps. She works on legal/logistical details for WBC.  The Westboro Baptist Church has become notorious in the United States for picketing the funerals of fallen US soldiers.  Their claim is that god is punishing America for allowing gay rights. (Dan Morris)picketing not only in my hometown of Salt Lake City, but that they would be starting their picket early Sunday morning at the synagogue where I was Bar Mitzvahed. Although I have long since left religion behind, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to see them in action, this time at a location with which I was very familiar.  Not surprisingly for a Sunday morning at a synagogue, there was no one there, save 6 members of the WBC, one videographer and one photographer (yours truly).  I then followed them to St. Mark’s Cathedral for their next protest.  There, I was able to speak with WBC member Shirley Phelps-Roper (Pastor Fred Phelps daughter). She was surprisingly cordial once I approached her.  We had a brief conversation about the music they were playing at the protest, some of which I later used in the mini-documentary featured above. After our chat, I was able to convince her to trek her picket party the few blocks over to my photography studio, where we had a short, 20 minute portrait session (stay tuned for this blog post - coming soon…).

    Clearly this church considers any publicity to be good publicity.  But I am more interested in the driving force behind their desire for any such publicity.  What is it that drives the rage behind Pastor Fred Phelps’ sermons?  Why such a strong focus on homosexuality? What will be the future of this church when the storied leader passes? And lastly, are we really going to eat our babies?

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    1. danmorrisphoto posted this