With the passing of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, I thought that it was a good time to take a look at another member of the Phelps family. One who has left the church and is working to heal herself, and help heal the harm her grandfather’s church has done with their anti-gay pickets. From the New York Post:
Libby Phelps Alvarez was raised as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, a vitriolic group founded by her grandfather, Fred Phelps. Famed for picketing funerals of soldiers with anti-gay signs, the Topeka, Kan.,-based organization, with its estimated 70 members, has become infamous for its extremist hate speech.
Four years ago, Alvarez, now 30, left the church — and she is now supporting Planting Peace, a nonprofit that recently bought a house across from her old church and painted it with gay-pride-themed rainbow stripes and titled it the Equality House.
In the old days, Gramps was a Democrat and a civil rights lawyer. He ran for governor in the ’80s. I remember driving around in his red truck in parades, throwing candy and stuff. We would have these big barbecues in the backyard. Al Gore came to my house for a fund-raiser once.
When I was 8, Gramps went to nearby Gage Park with two of my cousins, who were about a year younger than me. This park was known for homosexual gatherings. When he came back, he said these men started propositioning the boys — though you know, I’ve never actually asked my cousins whether that happened.
Gramps went to the city council meeting and wrote letters. And the next thing you know, we all started picketing, every single weekend. Eventually it became every day, no matter what. Afternoon pickets and evening pickets. Because you’re doing God’s work, telling everyone they’re going to hell.
The picketing was a social thing for us — it was a way we would see our cousins. We would just call each other, like, “You going to the 5 o’clock picket? Me too. I’ll see you there.” We would use it to go on vacations. You go, you picket, you do some fun stuff. I have a picture of me in Hawaii with two signs: “God hates f - gs” and “God hates Hawaii.” Why does he hate Hawaii? Because we wanted to go there!
One of the first things I did after leaving was get a haircut. Women can’t cut their hair in the church, because of First Corinthians 11:14: “If a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given her for a covering.” You shouldn’t cut it off because you’re cutting your glory off.
The whole time I was nervous. I was like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
When I first left, I thought that I was going to die driving on the highway. When I first got on an airplane, I thought it was going to crash and I was going to die, because God hated me now. I still get scared.
I don’t really think my personality has changed much, but I think my ideas on life have changed. When I had first left, if I would see a homosexual couple, I would scrunch up my nose. Then it got to where I still thought it was wrong, but I wouldn’t say or do anything. And now it’s to the point where it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t really care if somebody is gay. I know that I want to be good to people. I still believe in God. I just think that he’s more forgiving.
The way Libby talks about her grandfather as a Democrat, and talks about having Al Gore visit makes me wonder who was Fred Phelps before he became the man we’re all now familiar with. Was hate always a part of him or was he taught to hate, too? If the latter, just how did he learn it?