The Westboro Baptist Church: In the Footsteps of the Pharisees and Sadducees

In the aftermath of the court’s reversal of a multi-million dollar judgment against the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing a soldier’s funeral, we in America are left with many questions about where justice can be found. Despite many within the country that believe that the cult from Topeka, Kansas, should not be allowed to heckle and damn our nation’s military dead at their funerals, for now, the courts have decided that these protests are protected under the constitution. Equally painful to so many, myself included, is the court’s decision to force the Al Snyder family, the family that brought the private lawsuit against Westboro, to pay over $16,000 of the Phelps family’s court costs. It would seem that the courts have said to grieving military families across the nation that attempting to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from joyously telling them that their loved ones are in hell will be a costly endeavor on all fronts.

Does this recent court ruling in some way justify the work of Westboro? Has God reached down to shelter his faithful flock with their colorful signs and punish the wickedness of the world as is so often indicated from the members of this group from Kansas? The answer to this question is found in the same document they use to damn all of humanity: the Bible. When we find ourselves at a loss to fathom groups like Westboro, it is the wisdom and modern applicability found within the Bible that exposes them and shows their true place in the world. It is amongst the holy hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Sadducees of the Bible we find Westboro’s equivalent.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious experts of their time, and like Westboro and their colorful signs, these religion enforcers wore special colorful robes to be easily identified among the masses. You might say the colorful robes were their trademark. The Pharisees and Sadducees took great effort to garner attention for themselves in public spectacles on street corners that were meant to show their righteousness, and more importantly, the disparity between them and the masses of the spiritually lost. Are you seeing the similarities yet? Jesus admonished the Pharisees and Sadducees for their lack of compassion, and in their intolerance, for turning people away from God. The Lord could see that these public super holy rollers acted for their own glory and not his. Jesus as well understood them, and admonished them for what they really were, a “brood of vipers.”

I remember interviewing Shirley Phelps Roper in 2008 on my radio program Conscience of Kansas. The cult lives only 40 miles from me here in Kansas and despite many friends who feared for my physical and financial safety against these well-known litigious fanatics, I invited their congregational spokesperson to the program and debated the issues as best as can be done with members of this group. In fact, if I have any YouTube fame at all, it is as the radio host that turned Shirley Phelps Roper’s microphone off a record number of times. During my interview with her, among the many judgments she laid upon me, I remember her saying that I would have been one of the people cheering the crucifixion of Christ. If the truth be told, it was in fact the self-absorbed Westborian-like Pharisees that saw Jesus as a threat to their power base and worked so hard to destroy the son of God. If the sacrificial lamb were to return today, he would have Westboro at his doorstep with the signs of the Sadducees saying “God Hates Jesus.”

I don’t know if this biblical perspective gives any consolation to the Snyder family or those who will suffer at future military funerals at the hands of a bunch of Kansas Pharisees and Sadducees. What I hope is that while the high court’s struggle with where free speech begins and ends, we take to heart what eluded the Pharisees, Sadducees, and their modern equivalents. That is, while sin, judgment, and damnation are biblical realities, so are love, mercy, compassion, and the opportunity for God’s grace. Both exist and are relevant to humanity, and to imply otherwise is to be worse than a fool; it is to be a hypocrite. It is to be a Pharisee or a Sadducee.

Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the books “Living Under The Patriot Act: Educating A Society” and “Feeding Lions: Sharing The Conservative Philosophy In A Politically Hostile World.” Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008, 2009 and 2010 Entertainment Program of the Year, Conscience of Kansas airing on KSDB Manhattan 91.9 f.m. www.ibbetsonusa.com. For interviews or questions, please contact [email protected]