Westboro Baptist Church

How would you describe the Westboro Baptist church?

  • A sect

    Votes: 7 10.9%
  • A cult

    Votes: 57 89.1%
  • A true NT church demonistrating the true marks of the church per Calvin's Institutes 4:1:9-13

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .
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Thank you Caroline. I found this post insightful and helpfully balanced.

i gather from your post that you were in a cult for some time?

Yes. Although 'a cult' is simplistic. My extended family is a sort of cult unto itself, but also became involved in two other cults when I was a child--the United Pentecostal Church International, and Hallelujah Prayer Center. I spent more time in the UPCI, but Hallelujah Prayer Center was the most disturbing. The UPCI was anti-Trinitarian, very harsh on women, and tended to be run by thugs (but even that is simplistic--there were some good people). Hallelujah Prayer Center was the stuff nightmares are made of. Way worse than WBC, unless they are into stuff I don't know about, which is entirely possible.
Listen to this interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the founder, Fred Phelps. This really helps understand the mindset they have.

Fighting for the Faith: Interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church

I listened to this with interest. The fighting for faith man (Chris) did seek to establish common ground based on scripture (Reformed theology). Much of this went well. Chris then tried to establish the principle that Shirley sinned every day (as all do). Shirley clearly did not understand the precise point Chris was making and went on the attack (as the Westboro folks are inclined to do!). it was a pity Chris did not explain where he was going with this (Consistent with Reformed principles) as this may have guided the discussion better. other relevant points were: [1] challenge Shirley when she judged him (Chris) the scriptural basis otherwise she is making an unscriptural judgment. [2] Challenge the scriptural basis for the hate signs. Paul did not do this Acts 17 etc. Also their theological heroes (Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards etc) did not do this. Shirley in the past claimed that they were in the Calvinistic mainstream of churches. If so where have mainstream Calvinistic churches used hate signs (they preached the whole counsel of God but were 'wise as doves and cunning as serpents'.

In fairness to Chris the cell phone cut out before he could continue the discussion.
I would say that designation of something as a cult or not a cult (in the sense in which I understand the word--as a manipulative organization brainwashing its members) has less to do with their claimed beliefs and more to do with their governmental structure and perspective of the outside world. It is entirely possible for an organization to have a benign statement of faith and yet end up drinking poisoned kool-aid. There are several considerations:

1. Does the group actively keep a "normal" statement of faith to mask their real beliefs? I have known many cults that do this. They often tell insiders that outsiders will not "understand" (because they have not been enlightened), and so it is unwise to present the entirety of their beliefs to outsiders.

2. How does the group interpret ordinary Christian phrases? Cults are notorious for giving entirely new meanings to ordinary Christian words. In the UPCI, there is much talk about "modesty." And the true Christian church would support this, right? Who can be against modesty? But then, the UPCI interprets "modesty" in a highly particular manner. A woman is "immodest" if she wears pants. She must wear skirts to be modest. She is immodest if she cuts her hair or even touches scissors to her hair. She is immodest if she wears make-up or jewelry. And then there are aberrant ideas attached to it. It is believed that angels reside in a woman's hair (totally not making this up) and that cutting her hair causes her hair to lose its angelic power. Uncut hair of a "modest woman" is believed to have healing properties and can function as the protection from disease and accidents for her husband and children. (Notice the implication here that if a woman leaves the UPCI and cuts her hair, she is a promiscuous woman who cares nothing about the safety of her family).

So you can see it took a hard left turn somewhere. But in the statement of faith, it will merely say, "We believe that women should be modest."

3. Even if a group has moderately orthodox beliefs (but most cults do eventually develop heretical ideas), I think one could still call it a cult if it was heavily abusive and manipulative and viewed everyone outside the church as evil or at least unenlightened. Even if a church claims to subscribe to the Westminster Confession, I'd still call them a cult if they declared everyone outside their particular church was insufficient in their understanding of the Confession and cut their members off from ordinary communication and fellowship with other Christians.

Isolation is a key factor in cults. They need to keep their people separated from others. They either do that physically (by building compounds in the jungle or something like that), or by declaring communication with others as dangerous and/or worldly. Generally, they will not let their members read anything or watch anything unapproved by the group, and they strongly discourage taking jobs that require a high level of interaction with the public or attending schools that are not affiliated with the group. But the best weapon at isolating their members is actually their manner of communication. You'll notice when you talk to cultists that they constantly struggle to communicate. They often refuse to use certain words. They repeat slogans over and over. They seem to be unable to understand what people say to them. Sometimes, when they are confronted with errors in their beliefs, they break off entirely and begin chanting or speaking in tongues (which they are taught to do to "block attacks of Satan on their minds.")

I think that ordinary Christians make a mistake by focusing exclusively on doctrinal errors of cults. You can't really argue these people out of their ideas. The strongest appeal, in my experience, is actually the way they treat other people. Most cultists are actually very uncomfortable with that on some level, even if they don't admit it. They may do things because they believe that it is what God requires, but it causes tremendous emotional and psychological strain. That is the weak point. And that is why most ex-cultists become ex-cultists. At some point, they said, "I can't keep hurting people like this anymore."

PS By the way, this is slightly off-topic I dearly wish that Reformed churches had more resources for ex-cultists. People are so very, very confused and disoriented when they leave cults, and they have no support network because their support network was the cult. There are treatment centers, but very expensive, which most ex-cultists can't remotely afford (having given all their money to cults). I ended up Reformed because of an email loop that helped me and suggested that I find an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The email loop no longer exists, and most Reformed ministers, in my experience, have NO experience or training in dealing with ex-cultists. Sure, we can condemn WBC. But when those people do leave that group, where do they go?
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I listened to the interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper, and got a glimpse of their mindset, if she is representative of WBC. If the interviewer had simply asked, "Do those who repent receive forgiveness?" she likely would have answered in the affirmative. It seems she is preaching pure law and no gospel; or, in other words, she is not presenting Christ and His sayings, which would include such things as "Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28), or "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37), as well as commands to repent and believe and follow Him.

What I seem to be hearing in her is an adamant sort of "hyper-Calvinism" that says the elect, upon hearing the proclamations of coming wrath and judgment on sins, will be "cut to the heart" and repent. She will not preach the "love of God" for sinners as that love is only for the elect. She says there is no offer (as in "well-meant offer" I think) of salvation to all, or invitation to come and be saved, despite, "And let him that is athirst, come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17). This last is nuanced, as the preaching will, in the elect, cause a thirst for Christ's saving grace, and of those whosoever will are invited to come, fearing no rejection.

She (and the rest of WBC) seem to have taken upon themselves a prophetic mantle, and see themselves as the only true preachers of God's word. Just on the basis of what I have seen in the media and that interview (and the granddaughter's brief statement), I do not have enough information to render a clear assessment of their status.
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