False Christians disrupt Sunday mass, spreading messages of hate

October 28, 2011


McKenzie Parks and Rebecca Spence


For all of its notoriety, the city of New Orleans is surprisingly calm on Sunday morning. The mild weather encourages dog owners out of their homes and down the sidewalk, their leashed companions leading the way. A small group of teenagers meet at a basketball court just across from Magazine Street, and a dad takes his daughter’s tiny hand in his as they walk toward the towering plastic slide. Everything seems fine, until you sneak a glance over at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.


Police officers in blue align themselves with the side of the church. They’ve known for weeks that ‘they’ were coming, and so did the members of St. Stephen’s. Chad Ham – an usher and St. Stephen’s member for the past 20 years – spoke of the church’s resolve to still have mass, despite the presence of the widely-hated Westboro Baptist Church, which has achieved nationwide attention for picketing the funerals of dead soldiers.


“Our decision was we’re gonna pray, and praise God like we do every Sunday,” Ham said. “We’ll do nothing differently and acknowledge them in the least way possible.”


And as promised in the picket schedule, the Westboro Baptist Church members showed up promptly at 10:10 a.m., arriving just in front of St. Stephen’s by way of an old blue mini-van. Their signs are the first things you see exiting the van – not the faces of people, but the black, bold phrases people have come to associate with the group: “GOD HATES FAGS,” “GOD IS YOUR ENEMY” and “GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS,” to name a few.


If it weren’t for their self-identifying-hate-mantra shirts, they could easily pass for common morning joggers.


Megan Phelps-Roper, the 24-year-old granddaughter of Fred Phelps, certainly doesn’t bear the appearance of someone who rouses hate for others on a daily basis. Dressed in black sweats and a light blue jacket, her eyes veiled with big sunglasses, she looks almost as though she dropped her dog’s leash and picked up four Westboro signs by mistake. She’s surprisingly polite and well-spoken, eager to explain her message to anyone listening.


But why this Catholic church? Or any Catholic church, for that matter?


Almost as though it were rehearsed for this occasion, Megan is quick with a reply: “Priests rape children, worldwide. But that’s in addition to all of their idolatry, worship of saints, worship of Mary, all these unscriptural doctrines, and Christ said In vain do you worship me, because you teach for doctrine the commandments of man.”


For every argument, Megan has a counterargument, using scripture as her sword and shield. Though no children at St. Stephen’s have reported any inappropriate behavior, Westboro still considers the church – and any other Catholic church – guilty by association, for “paying billions of dollars to pedophile rapists instead of of turning them into the police.”


Most people aren’t sold by the message Megan’s spreading, but she’s adamant. Even when confronted with the age-old and scriptural-supported “Love thy neighbor,” she still manages to twist the verse to fit her agenda.


“You love them by warning them that their sin will take them to hell. And if you don’t do that, it’s because you hate your neighbor in your heart,” she explains.


Of course, this type of confusing, circular reasoning can only get them so far, and the obvious aside, it’s probably one of the main reasons the church remains primarily composed of the Phelps family, who founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955.


“They’re not a church, they’re certainly not religious. They’re attorneys with a gimmick,” says Ham. “God loves everybody. If God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son… Well, obviously that just doesn’t fit well enough on one of their signs.”



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