TOPEKA, Kan. Oct. 6 — Bearing the faces of Matthew Shepard and
Laura Bush, signs reading phrases such as “CSU Fags” and “Fag Pimp”
were displayed from the pulpit of the Westboro Baptist Church.
“Every time a little faggot sneezes, the Colorado State
University, the president on down salutes them,” said Fred Phelps
from the pulpit of a church comprised of nearly 60 people. “Shame
on them, you need to be preached too, and I’m elected.”
He leaned over the pulpit pointing his finger and holding up
documents and pictures of adversaries. His voice billowed as he
justified his coming to areas such as CSU to preach.
Phelps is scheduled to bring his controversial message to Fort
Collins Saturday outside Hughes Stadium before the CSU-Wyoming
The congregation, composed of mostly family members, sat
motionless and silent except for an occasional chuckle as Phelps
filled the room with talk of fornication and graphic sexual
metaphors. However, for Westboro Baptist Church the day started
long before Phelps’s 11 a.m. sermon.
At 9 a.m., church members referred to their weekly schedule of
pickets and lined themselves on sidewalks and street corners
adjacent to other churches in the area.
“We picket to preach and spread our message that it’s not OK to
be gay,” said Sam Phelps-Roper, a church member and grandson to
Fred Phelps. “To make it an innocent alternative lifestyle is
sending yourself to hell. We’re about simply spreading that
They call it “crying against the altars,” which involves
picketing other churches because of their message of love rather
than hate, of mercy and grace rather than disdain and
“We pray for them,” said Wesley Smith, pastor at St. David’s
Episcopal Church in Topeka. “(Phelps is a) classic example of how
religion can be abused and become a weapon. It’s very
Churches have held counter-demonstrations and have rallied to
oppose Phelps’ message, but many say that the best thing to do is
“They have no influience on the community,” Smith said. “Saint
David’s did counter-demonstrations on God’s love. We find their
behavior, signs and mentality grievous and embarrassing. They have
no influence; naturally no one takes them seriously.”
According to the Westboro Baptist Church Web site, leaders such
as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, have “turned to
an impotent god that doesn’t exist.”
“‘God loves everyone’ is the big lie,” said Shirley
Phelps-Roper, a member of the church and daughter of Fred Phelps.
“(Other churches) pass ordinances and try every way to make us stop
picketing,” she said.
The Westboro church sued another church because of an ordinance
saying that picketers had to remain 90 feet away. They sued the
church, and were then allowed to picket 50 feet from the
Picketing isn’t limited to the adults. Children are encouraged
to join church members at pickets. Many go eagerly.
Zach Phelps-Roper is in the sixth grade. He, like many other
children his age, likes to play video games and the piano. But
every week before church, he joins his family members at pickets,
often holding signs bearing phrases like, “Thank God For September
11th,” or “God Hates America.” At the age of 11, he already seeks
to fulfill a call and sees himself on a mission.
“We need to warn these people about hell for eternity,” he said.
“That’s where you’re going to go if you’re not going to
Zach is one of many children who rally at the pickets, standing
holding signs, or playing with swords with their friends.
Many members of the Topeka community don’t support Phelps’ views
and have grown tired of the picketing.
“I think in general people dislike it,” said Kyle McDonald, a
senior studying computer information sciences at Washburn
University. “Most disagree with how he’s going about things and
what he has on his signs.”
The picketers are diligent and disperse themselves throughout
the community so that there are several pickets going on at one
time. Everyone in the congregation attends the pickets, including
children and elderly.
“They’re out everyday rain or shine,” McDonald said. “I think
it’s pretty disgusting. I wouldn’t be proud having my kids see
what’s on his signs. A lot of people tend to ignore him, most just
wish he’d leave.”
Nevertheless, the picketers remain unmoved and irrevocable, a
seemingly permanent fixture to the streets and sidewalks of Topeka.
They strategically place themselves and their signs to reach the
greatest number of onlookers.
“You can’t help but not miss them,” said Gary Shewmake a
community member of Topeka. “Personally, I wish they’d take their
signs and pitch them. Phelps is basically what some people say is a
cult. Nobody likes them.”