Christianity,  News

Call it what it is—the Westboro cult

I grow weary of editorials and commentators who make facile comparisons between orthodox Christianity and the fringe group known as “Westboro Baptist Church.” Just this week, The Baltimore Sun published an editorial comparing Chick-fil-a president Dan Cathy to the Westboro extremists. I know not everyone can be a religion reporter, but this kind of ignorance of the basic differences between mainstream evangelicals and Westboro hatred is inexcusable.

That is why I’m throwing in my lot with Marty Duren, who urges media-types to change the way they refer to Fred Phelps’ infamous church. Duren writes:

To All Media Outlets, Reporters, Writers and Editors:

It is abundantly clear to most Americans that the “Westboro Baptist Church” is neither “Baptist” nor a “church” according to any commonly accepted meaning of either word. As a Christ follower, and a long time church attender, I enter this plea to stop using the phrase “Westboro Baptist Church” in favor of the more accurate “the Westboro cult.”

Whether or not folks will heed Duren’s advice remains to be seen. In any case, cult probably would be a better description of what Westboro Baptist Church really is. Maybe a new designation would help reporters not to make spurious comparisons like the one made in The Baltimore Sun. Read the rest of Duren’s argument here.


  • Nathan Cesal

    Cathy: We are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage.’

    Westboro (cult, crazies, whatever): Accepting homosexuality to the extent that we have in this nation has already caused God’s judgment on our country as evidenced by war deaths, 911 terrorist attacks, AIDS, hurricane Katrina, along with other tragedies. (see the 3rd question of their FAQ)

    Spurious comparison? I don’t think so. All the author wants: “Mr. Cathy needs to explain exactly how he thinks God will visit His judgment on America.”

    That’s a fair demand in my opinion.

    • Denny Burk

      Nathan, orthodox Christians of every tradition agree that there is such a thing as the judgment and that we are accountable to God. How is that equal to picketing soldiers’s funerals?

      • Nathan Cesal

        They just want to alert the nation about God’s judgment. You know if someone was running toward a cliff, it’s the most loving thing to do to warn them about it. WBC’s picketing is just them loving the nation enough to get us to act the way God wants us to in order to stop further judgment.

        Sound familiar?

        • Mary Burbrink

          As a veteran of the Marine Corps, I find what these people do at servicememer’s funerals extremely disrespectful and distasteful. Shame on them for interfering at servicemembers funerals to spread their message of hate. Their actions are selfish for disrupting the grieving process of the families’ and friends of the fallen. There are more appropriate forums to express your views and the funeral of someone who has given the ultimate sacrifice for this country is not one of them.

        • Pastor Murph

          Nathan, WBC’s picketing is akin to standing at the bottom of said cliff with signs that say “Pray for more Jumpers.” This is not IMHO, “loving the nation.” This is simply “look at me! I’m going to be a big enough jerk that someone takes a swing at me so I can sue them.” If you want to love the nation you pray for repentance and revival, NOT more dead soldiers.

    • Sam

      Huge difference though: WBC believes that they are an INSTRUMENT of God’s judgment on the nation. As Dr. Burk said, all orthodox Christians believe in divine judgment; the difference is who one believes will carry out that judgment.

    • Michael Hutton

      On the contrary, friend, this article is misleading in at least two areas.
      Firstly, it has been demonstrated again and again that ChikfilA is an equal opportunity employer and serves all customers. These statements are the guys personal sentiments, not a “corporate opposition”. This is extremely misleading as it misrepresents a freedom of speech issue as an active discrimination issue.

      Secondly, The attitude, behaviour and tone of the westboro cult is not recognisable in any of Cathy’s statements nor in any of his corporation’s actions. Cathy sits in orthodox Christianity’s understanding that God will hold every individual accountable for their sins and that homosexual practice is one of those sins, as are many others. The westboro cult are obviously arrogant, hateful bullies as seen in the way they target people in their grief. Cathy is nothing like this, the comparison is beyond facile, it becomes misleading and dishonest as it becomes more and more likely that such poor reporting can only come from an agenda of one’s own.

      It is worth noting that the graffiti, targeted abuse, and hatred poured out on innocent ChikfilA workers and customers is more like westboro than any of the statements Cathy originally made.

      Michael Hutton,
      Tamworth NSW.

  • Don Johnson

    The challenge is that the word cult is a pejorative term and what is a cult is in the eye of the beholder. Do we really want the majority of people to decide what is or is not a cult? The first Christians were called atheists by the Romans as they denied the Roman pantheon of pagan “gods”, but does that mean they were atheists?

    Catholics and Protestants used to call each other a cult and some part may still do this. Both of them today usually agree that Mormons are a cult, but the Mormons think all the others are. So it depends on where the speaker of the word cult sits and tells more about the speaker than what they are speaking against.

  • Ryan

    Its also become abundantly clear that Westboro is not really about the MSM covering “news.” This is just a tired freak show of a well they go to time and again with any real attention to detail.

    It is akin to covering a naked guy riding his bike down the street in the name of Green Peace or something. It is not news but rather just a spectacle to draw interest. We should really call them the “Westboro Family” as there is not much more to them than that.

    All you need to know is that the MSM can’t be bothered to talk about faith elements in the life of RG3, Gabby Douglas, or substantive areas like healthcare, but they are all over it when it comes to giving a giant platform to a few freaks.

  • stephenleecavness

    i agree wholeheartedly. that is why, back in 2008 i wrote the following resolution for the sbc to vote on.the resolution never made it out of committee. i plan on re-submitting it again in 2013:


    WHEREAS, Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist
    Church frequently picket funerals with hate filled language and signage; and

    WHEREAS, The highly publicized website for this Baptist church
    is ; and

    WHEREAS, The attitude, approach, language, and behavior displayed
    publicly and in the media by Mr. Phelps and members of his congregation
    are frequently in violation of explicit commands of Scripture of holy and
    righteous living above reproach, even when confronting sin; and

    WHEREAS, The designation of “Baptist” in the name of such an
    organization and its claim to be “..the mouth of God”[i] can bring
    shame and reproach on the Gospel, as well as other entities with
    the name Baptist; and

    WHEREAS, The national media fails to distinguish between churches
    belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention and Westboro Baptist
    Church; now, therefore be it

    RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention
    meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, firmly and publicly
    clarify that neither Fred Phelps nor Westboro Baptist Church are
    members of or representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention, nor
    do we recognize their methods of protest or as appropriate or biblical.

    [i] – front page under “Welcome, Depraved Sons and Daughters of Adam”

  • Travis

    “Cult” is accurate. After watching a documentary on the WBCult and listening to Phelps preach in it, he neither preaches the Gospel nor knows what it is himself. Based on what he was preaching during one of their church(cult) services he showed himself to be an unregenerate wolf deceiving himself and those who follow him. Unless Phelps himself is regenerated by the sovereign grace of God, he will experience the very wrath of God that he so vehemently warns others about.

  • Mike Studdard

    I think the editorial that you are referring to is a letter to the editor. This was written about the author of the link for your blog about, Art Lapenotiere of Westminister.

    November 15, 2005
    Art Sinclair Pleads Guilty To Sex Charge
    The Baltimore Sun reports that Art Sinclair, a Baltimore radio personality, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to engaging in a sexual act with a 16-year-old girl in an Ellicott City parking lot in November 2004. He was arrested in March 2005. Sinclair, whose real name is Arthur Lapenotiere, was sentenced by a Howard County Circuit Court judge to 15 days in jail and 55 days in home detention. Sinclair, who will begin serving his time on 1/6, apologized to the girl before he was sentenced. Sinclair, 61, who lives in Westminster, must also undergo sexual offender treatment or counseling, but he does not have to register as a sex offender. After Judge Louis Becker sentenced Sinclair, the mother of the girl, whom the Sun did not identify, cried out in the courtroom: “That’s not time! I’m not satisfied with that. He deserves more time!” Over the years, Sinclair has held various radio news and sports jobs at Frederick’s WFMD and Baltimore’s WFBR (now WJFK-AM) and WCBM. Most recently, he was the voice of the Baltimore Blast soccer team.

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