The Rapture is coming, says Pastor Fred Phelps, and the country is drowning in the sin of homosexuality. For 55 years, Phelps has led the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, which gained notoriety in recent years for picketing the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pastor and his congregation stand outside the cemeteries, singing about the downfall of America, lifting signs that read "God Hates Fags," "Fags Die, God Laughs," "AIDS Cures Fags," "Fag Sin = 9/11," "Thank God for 9/11" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
Phelps was at the center of the media spotlight this week when a federal judge struck down two Missouri laws restricting his funeral protests, saying they violated his Constitutional right to free speech. The pastor's fight is not over: more than a dozen other states now have laws restricting funeral protests, and the Supreme Court has announced it will take up the issue in October.
Phelps spoke with me about hell, homosexuality, the Supreme Court and the mission of the Westboro Church.
Phelps: The mission of the church is to preach to a doomed world, to let them know about the second coming of Jesus. It's not going to be pretty. Look at the world of Noah. In his day there were 12 to 16 billion people on Earth, and only eight got out of that flood alive. The world is going to be devoured by fire.
Kors: Do you think that will happen soon, in the next few years?
Phelps: I don't know when it's coming. But there's no debate: it is coming.
Kors: Tell me about your family. I understand that your parents weren't involved in the Westboro Church.
Phelps: My mom died when I was five years old. And my father, he took me to the local Methodist church. That's where I went regularly. When I was 16, I graduated from high school top of the class and was waiting to enter West Point. That's when I had a religious experience.
Kors: I read about that. Tell me about that experience.
Phelps: Why? So you can make fun? Yeah, I know you'd love to hear about it. I'm not going to talk about that.
Kors: You don't want to talk about it.
Phelps: You want to know? Go read [Anglican minister] John Wesley. He defined the experience: his heart was strange, and he was sorry for his sins. He called it the "Aldersgate's experience." That's what I experienced. It's nothing new. It's just that today, this country's left the Lord. I haven't.
Kors: Why picket?
Phelps: (Phelps chuckles.) I didn't think it up. And it's very effective. The message we have is simple: the sodomites have taken over the country, and this country has given itself over to immorality. We want to warn the nation, let them know that God is not going to let this country get by with that kind of degeneracy. So what's the right forum to preach that message?
Kors: People would say funerals are not the right forum. And why soldiers' funerals?
Phelps: Soldiers' funerals are the right place. The Lord has killed him. The soldier shouldn't be there dead. But this is the God that delivered ten different plagues — and nothing worked. So here we are.
Kors: The military families who see your protests, in your view, do they have a chance to be saved?
Phelps: If they listen to me, there's still time. But I don't expect these degenerates to listen to me. And they'll pay the price for that. That so-called Holocaust, that's a teeny little thing that's compared to what's described in the Bible. Jonah, after coming out of the belly of the whale, his message to Nineveh was: time is short. He had a case for massive media exposure. So do we. We preach God's message. That's what has to happen.
Kors: I just don't understand, why target military families? If it's the country's that evil, why not picket the post office? They deliver pornographic magazines.
Phelps: Look, I ask you: what's better than a dead soldier lying there? And it's a media lie that we disrupt funerals. It's undisputed that we picket 1,000 feet away.
Kors: Albert Snyder — the father of deceased soldier Matthew Snyder — who sued you, he disputes that claim. He says you were much closer.
Phelps: Oh, that Snyder guy, he didn't even see us. He saw us on TV. Just think: now you can sue someone for seeing them on the TV.
Kors: So, to military families who don't understand why you target their children's funerals —
Phelps: Oh, we do picket other locations. We pick out the busiest street corner in town. It's just that, with these soldier funerals, we've generated such massive media attention. At this point we'd get attention if we were out picketing in the Atlantic Ocean. You must understand: this is the response of an evil nation. They don't want me to say they're going to hell. But I'm saying it. Sixteen years old is when I started. I'm not apt to quit.
Kors: Specialist Lucas Frantz served in Iraq and died on October 18, 2005, his 22nd birthday. His wife, Kelly, has spoken publicly about how awful it was to deal with your protesters on a day that was already traumatic.
Phelps: Oh, I don't believe much of what these people tell me. These people, they just want press attention on our backs.
Kors: Well, Kelly is probably reading this. Is there anything you want to say to her?
Phelps: No. Except that she should repent.
Kors: But her husband wasn't a homosexual.
Phelps: So then why are they upset? If he wasn't a sinner, he doesn't need to worry. If he was, then it's too late for him. There's time for her though.
Kors: Do you think people will hear your message and change their views? I spoke with your daughter this week, and she said the people in this country are too evil to get it. In which case, why bother picketing?
Phelps: I don't think this country can be saved, but I have a duty to preach it anyway. I just told you, the Lord Almighty called on me to preach. The Lord Jesus Christ instructs us to go forth and preach the gospel, teach them to observe the commandments. That's the mission: to preach it even if that soldier's widow doesn't want you to. It's irrelevant what she wants. My job is to preach it without timidity.
Kors: You just won the lawsuit in federal court, and now your right to picket is headed for the Supreme Court.
Phelps: The Supreme Court, it's a wonderful a bully pulpit, if there ever was one. This country is the only remaining superpower, which means the Supreme Court is head of the whole world. What is our message for the world? You're going to hell. That court is going to hell. You know Lawrence v. Texas, [which established the Constitutional right to engage in gay sex]? They did that — that we must respect these sodomites. You have a court that says that kind of stuff, and you have a court that's going to hell.
Kors: Have you thought about what will happen when you die?
Phelps: (Phelps chuckles.) I'm not planning on dying.
Kors: Well, everybody's going to die at some point. I'm wondering about your thoughts on going to heaven.
Phelps: The Lord himself should descend for me with the angels. I'm not looking for an undertaker — I'm looking for an uppertaker.
Kors: Describe that heaven for me.
Phelps: When the time comes, I will leave my old body. My new body will be a part of God. That's our inheritance. God says, "They shall hunger no more. They shall thirst no more." What's the matter with you? Don't you know the Bible? You are about the most ignorant person I've ever seen.
Kors: Well, every church has different interpretations of heaven.
Phelps: That's a common Satanic lie. Everybody doesn't have different interpretations. How can there be different interpretations? It's right there in the Bible.
Kors: What happens to homosexuals when they die?
Phelps: These fags are going to hell. And I'm supposed to be quiet about that? I'm supposed to get lockjaw? The Bible's just full of hell, the wrath of God.
Kors: On TV, in movies, hell is always portrayed as full of flames and snakes.
Phelps: That's right. Hell is the place where the worm eats on fags, and the fire is never quenched. Indescribable pain. The Lord Jesus said that. And he knows because he's had a front row seat since the creation of Adam. What you need to do is get a Bible and look up Luke, Chapter 16. These fags are going to hell, and instead of squawking like crybabies, they ought to be so thankful that at no expense to them, we've dedicated time and resources to preach to them. People say we're "disturbing the peace." Don't you understand: we've done 40,000 of these pickets, and we'd be in jail if we were disturbing the peace.
Kors: Homosexuality is obviously a focus of your church. But the Bible speaks out against other things, like wearing mixed fabrics. I'm wondering why that isn't a focus for you.
Phelps: That's such silly, stupid question. You just have to get a Bible and read it, and you'll know. Anah saw donkeys with a horse producing mules. God doesn't permit bestiality. And if there's another sin as bad as that, it's homosexuality. But this culture, on TV, day and night, it's broadcasting sodomy. You go to hell for that. But you don't go to hell for wearing two different kinds of fabrics. That's part of the Mosaic Code. It's symbolic, to teach you not to practice perversion.
Kors: Let me read you a sentence from your church's official website, GodHatesFags.com: "Imagine how Bloody Beast Obama will be licking his chops at the thought of using the billions of dollars of fake money to pay a lot of worthless young white women to bear children, and nurse them for a year or so, in order to ship those freeze-dried plump white babies to Africa to meet their food needs."
Phelps: That's right. The Lord God said, "I'm going to show you a holocaust, and you're going to be so distressed, you're going to be eating your own children." Do you think it's in the Bible? Of course it is. People see our sign with the dead baby in the hamburger bun. They say, "The Bible doesn't specify that it'll be on a hamburger bun." I say, what's the matter with you? You have to repent. When the end of the world comes, you're going to be eating your children.
Kors: I don't understand what this has to do with Obama.
Phelps: You heard Obama say that if his daughter had an unwanted baby, he'd get a knife and take care of that worry? What would you call that, killing his grandchild?
Kors: I hadn't heard him say that.
Phelps: Well, he said it. And he put it all over the web. I ask you, would that be a sin? Would that be evil? He gets one of his daughters, and he's going to teach her moral values — he'll kill the fetus. Is that a bloody beast or not? Obama described himself as a fierce advocate of abortion, and he proved it in the Illinois Senate. Somebody ought to preach that. And I am.
Kors: The Southern Poverty Law Center says your church is a hate group. Is that an accurate description?
Phelps: Oh, they're the biggest bunch of lying, thieving perverts that ever lived. I label them a hate group. Look, you can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God. "Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated." Esau was a pervert.
Kors: The ACLU has been one of your biggest supporters. They filed lawsuits in Missouri and Ohio on your behalf. How do you feel about partnering with them?
Phelps: Just fine.
Kors: But they're also one of the country's most outspoken advocates for gay rights.
Phelps: Well, so what? My job is to preach. What devils are there with me is wholly irrelevant. Hey, if they let me preach at their national convention, I'd be there with bells on. Any forum I have to preach the gospel, I'll take it.
Kors: Last month your church picketed Comi-Con, the annual comic book convention. That protest made news when the nerds came out in costume and picketed alongside you. I read comments from a member of your congregation saying she was used to facing counter-protests but that this was humiliating.
Phelps: You didn't hear me say that. Did you think this was new to me? These kids, they got minds and lives of their own. I'm not concerned about them.
Kors: Recently several anti-gay activists, like Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church and George Rekers of the Family Research Council, have spoken about their own homosexual activities.
Phelps: That's fine with me. The First Amendment is for them too. I know more about these preachers than anybody else does. I've been paying close attention for 64 years, and my question is, what's taken them so long to come out? I believe that about half of these preachers and priests are closet homosexuals — I mean practicing homosexuals. "Priests Rapes Kids": that's one of our favorite signs. You think Huffington will print that?
Kors: I think they will.
Phelps: Good, because people need to know.
Kors: With all these preachers and anti-gay activists coming out, I think a lot of people are wondering whether you'd ever dealt with homosexual urges.
Phelps: Oh no, I told you — I told you I was not going to talk to you if you used that kind of gutter talk.
Kors: Is that not a fair question?
Phelps: You have a nice day. [Phelps hangs up.]
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