David G. McAfee Interviews A Member of Westboro Baptist Church
Religious people claim that it’s just the fundamentalists of each religion that cause problems. But there’s got to be something wrong with the religion itself if those who strictly adhere to its most fundamental principles are violent bigots and sexists.
Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based fringe religious group headed by Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., has become synonymous with extreme Christian fundamentalism — especially as it relates to the group’s attitude toward homosexuals. WBC purports to represent primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, and its members travel the United States picketing funerals of soldiers, well-known members of the LGBTQ community, and anything else likely to gain media attention. They have held more than 50,000 pickets in more than 915 cities, according to their website.
WBC often preaches against the “God loves us all!” mentality that some cultural or liberal Christians have adopted, instead choosing to highlight the many times in the Bible in which God expressed his “divine hate.” Here are just a few of the church’s frequently cited biblical passages about the hatred of God:
*Leviticus 20:23 – “And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”
*Deuteronomy 32:19 – “And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.”
*Psalm 5:5 – “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
*Romans 9:13 – “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
On Jan. 12, 2014, members of WBC made stops throughout Los Angeles picketing various “Whorehouses,” “Dog Kennels,” and “Child Rapists” — also known as liberal protestant and Catholic churches — before making it to the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, where they protested those who will “try and preach Paul Walker into heaven.” During the WBC’s exhibition, I met up with lifetime member Isaac Hockenbarger to ask a few questions about cults, faith, and science.
David G. McAfee: Would you consider the Westboro Baptist Church a cult in any way?
Isaac Hockenbarger: I don’t care what you want to call us. If we’re a cult, well then our charismatic empathic leader is Christ.
McAfee: So, you don’t have a problem with the technical term “cult”?
Hockenbarger: I don’t care what you call us because, quite frankly, what Christ said was “If you love me, the world is going to hate you.” How awful a thing is it to call someone a cult? It’s pretty bad. The world hates us.
McAfee: I for one don’t hate Westboro Baptist or any other church. And there’s a factual definition that determines whether or not it’s a cult, but I argue that any major religion is just a larger version of that.
Hockenbarger: The brainwash of God loves everyone is sad. It’s spelled out so many times in so many different ways across the Bible.
McAfee: Do you think that your sect of Christianity is more biblically literate than the majority of other denominations?
Hockenbarger: I don’t think you can call yourself a Christian without being biblically literate, and it’s an everyday thing. It’s constant learning. The most fundamental law of logic is that if there is but a single counter-example to your theory, you are wrong. As it is written, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” We can’t just change definitions of words because we don’t like them. Hated means hated, but we aren’t talking about human hate. We are talking about a fixed determination to punish those who don’t follow his commandments.
McAfee: I agree that the Judeo-Christian god is portrayed in most of the Bible as hating homosexuals, or whatever your version of hating is, but you’re working under the presupposition that Christianity is true and that all that exists. You’re really just working with ancient texts like everybody else.
Hockenbarger: We could work under the presupposition of atheism being true, and what then?
McAfee: Since there’s no evidence to support the existence of any deities or supernatural entities of any kind, not believing should be the default position.
Hockenbarger: We can all think that we’re the smartest people in the world and ‘Stephen Hawking it up’ and what would it gain us?
McAfee: Intelligence, intellect, and education. By pursuing scientific advancement we can understand how the world how it actually it is.
Hockenbarger: If you’re right, so what. If I’m right, you’re screwed. That’s the simplistic version.
McAfee: That’s called Pascal’s Wager, and it’s long been debunked. But the typical wager there would be that you lost nothing. You guys have kind of lost your whole lives, following this really extreme sect.
Hockenbarger: What would you have gained?
McAfee: Living an evidence-based life is great. You don’t just listen to whatever your family tells you, or your culture or anything. You just look at facts.
Hockenbarger: You keep acting like you don’t want to offend me by saying cult, but you tell me I listen to my family. No, I don’t.
McAfee: Just like any Christian, you were born into a family and you listen to them. It’s still indoctrination if it’s a small cult or a big religion. You teach your children something and you don’t allow anything else other than that.
Hockenbarger: That’s a lie. We live absolutely normal lives.
McAfee: Are you encouraged to question your actual faith and interact with people who have left the church?
Hockenbarger: Absolutely, people leave all the time. Most of my family doesn’t belong to the church anymore.
McAfee: And you have nothing against them for that?
Hockenbarger: No, absolutely not. But I’m not buddy-buddy with them.
McAfee: Why not? They’re still your family. Have you been taught not to be “buddy-buddy” with them?
Hockenbarger: Because it’s simple. They went their way, I’m going my way. It’s in the Scriptures.
McAfee: But what if you look at the Scripture from another religion? Why is your religion’s Scripture the “right” one?
Hockenbarger: It’s what you choose to believe, just like you can choose to believe in the Big Bang, or whatever.