The controversial Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), known for its extreme homophobic views and picketing of military funerals, is planning a picket of three churches in Malibu on Sunday. Malibu Presbyterian, Waveside Church and Our Lady of Malibu will be targeted by the group between 8:45 and 11 a.m. before picketers move on to the Academy Awards, according to the WBC website.
Representatives from the Malibu churches say they are advising their members to ignore the Kansas-based protesters, who are known for their virulent anti-gay and lesbian rhetoric.
“From what I’ve read it’s a misnomer that they’re a church,” Greg Hughes, pastor of Malibu Presbyterian Church, said. “It’s more a law firm trying to bait people into getting into a fight and then they sue folks. That’s what I’ve read anyways. So we’ve kind of alerted our folks not to engage them in argumentation.”
WBC alleges on its website that Malibu Presbyterian was “burned to ground by an angry God in the 2007 wildfires for their disobedience to His standards.” It describes Our Lady of Malibu as a “Catholic Pedophile machine masquerading as a church” and criticized Waveside Church’s messages of equality, writing “the only people welcome at Waveside are those that will tell each other it is OK to sin their lives away.”
“We’re people who follow Christ,” Hughes said in response. “We’ll pray for them. We’re not going to stoop to their level and throw insults back at them.”
The group also plans on protesting at Santa Monica High School on Monday to warn students of the “truth which their parents, teachers and preachers try desperately to hide from them.”
Lt. Jim Royal of the Malibu/ Lost Hills Sheriff ’s Station said the WBC had provided notice to the department that the picketing would take place on public property.
“We don’t anticipate any problems, but we’re aware they’re going to be there and we’ll be monitoring the situation,” Royal said.
Hughes said the WBC’s attorney informed the sheriff’s department that seven protesters are going to show up. The protesters will picket the three churches and then move on to Legacy Park, according to what Hughes was told. Westboro has been known to schedule pickets and then not show up in the past.
The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which catalogues domestic hate groups, calls Westboro “arguably the most rabid and obnoxious hate group in America.”
The congregation is a tiny, fundamentalist offshoot of the Baptist Church founded by Rev. Fred Phelps in 1955 in Topeka, Kan. Estimates of its size range between 40 and 100 members, most of whom are related to Phelps and nine of his 13 children (four are estranged and have left the church). It is entirely self-funded by the salaries of its congregation, and it has won some legal fees over First Amendment controversies.
Under Phelps, the group subscribes to a fringe Calvinist doctrine it calls Primitive Baptist, in which God chooses a lucky few to be saved, such as the WBC members. But most are not saved, and will be going to hell.
WBC’s picketing derives from its opposition to homosexuality. Its followers take a literal interpretation of the Bible in which God takes vengeance on gay men and lesbians as well as heterosexual people who fail to condemn them.
The children in WBC are brought up in the church’s anti-gay beliefs, and handed picket signs at the age of three warning that the rest of the world is going to hell. While they attend public school, few develop friends or acquaintances outside of the church.
University of Southern California clinical professor of social work Doni Whitsett is an expert on human sexuality, cults and mental health issues. While she has not studied WBC thoroughly, she said aspects of WBC conform with cult behavior.
“In a cult you’re not allowed to question without being shamed, or humiliated. It does sound like they’re very insulated, which means that they’re not getting any input from the outside world,” Whitsett said. “So no information is challenging what they’re being brought up to think or believe. We know, for example, with the Aryan groups it’s the same thing.”
Since 2004, 20 members have left the church, three-fourths of them in their teens or twenties, according to the Kansas City Star.