Missing Fred Phelps? Five More Religious Leaders Who Drive People From the Church

God HatesFor decades Fred Phelps held an unparalleled position in the spectrum of American Christianity. Arch conservative and biblical literalist, he was a hater among haters, a bigot among bigots. Any public disaster afforded an opportunity to revel in God’s wrath. Even in the presence of anguish—whether the anguish of a family whose gay son had been murdered in Wyoming or the anguish of a family whose straight son had been killed in Afghanistan—Phelps stood resolute in his role as the Prophet Jonah, preaching divine judgment on a degenerate people.

Phelps was contentious and cruel; and as someone who spends a great deal of my life energy trying to call attention to the corrupting cruelties of biblical Christianity and the Bible itself, with its barbaric Iron Age texts, I considered him an ally.

As the face and voice behind “God hates fags,” Fred Phelps was the master of what I now call the Phelps Effect, in which a person makes their own position so repulsive that they end up moving opinion in the opposite direction. Compassionate Christians scrambled to distance themselves from his Westboro Baptist Church, which in turn forced them to distance from a broader swath of theologies and institutions that are steeped in homophobia and self-righteous judgment. Once they got the wake-up call, some young people scrambled right out the door of the Church.

In a perverse way, I miss Phelps. He could be counted on to out himself. Unlike Utah rancher Cliven Bundy, he didn’t need any wily reporter to rile him up so that he would momentarily drop the veil of civility and reason. He was reliably vile, and in the political theatre of the Religious Right, he will be hard to replace.

Who will rise to the position he occupied, grand master of the Phelps Effect? Certainly not his family.  One son, Nate, and two granddaughters have left Westboro and have become spokespersons for more thoughtful and compassionate causes. The remainder of his church and family members are descending rapidly into obscurity. Try as they might to sustain the legacy, they lack the edge—and the audience. With Phelps himself out of the picture, the field of contenders thins out.

All the same, for the marriage equality advocate seeking sympathy or the anti-theist in search of a nasty sound bite, here are five uglies worth watching. Each has more of a following than Phelps, to be sure, which means each also has more tact. But if you’re paying attention, the resemblance to Phelps himself is there right below the stage make up, and every so often it shines through.

Timothy Dolan. As former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is a mainstream faith leader with access to the White House and press that most paid lobbyists can only dream of. Nonetheless, he regularly says and does thing that trigger backlash against the Church because of his blindered focus on obstructing legal rights for women, queers, and child sex abuse victims. After playing several questionable roles in the priest sex abuse scandal (cover-ups; moving funds), Dolan successfully prevented New York victims from reforming statutes of limitations and so obtaining more time to seek redress after reaching age 18. After fighting victims rights groups in court and the legislature, Dolan said with a straight face that we must oppose gay marriage because “our children deserve better.” Dolan complains that the Church has been “outmarketed” on the issue of marriage equality (Yeah, it’s just marketing, not a substantive failure of compassion and justice) and bemoans that the Catholic hierarchy is “caricatured as being anti-gay.” In recent months, faced with the question of whether a woman’s Hobby Lobby boss should get to limit her family planning options, Dolan has reclaimed his position as an informed moral authority. Not. “Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available — my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them — is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?”

“Conscience.” Now, there’s an interesting word. Maybe we should look it up.

Scott Lively. If he doesn’t win the Massachusetts governor’s mansion this fall, Mr. Lively can at least console himself that he has made his mark on the world by helping to ensure that Ugandan gays get what they deserve—life in prison. When Obama expressed regret at the Ugandan law, Lively had this to say: “I think Obama may as well be a homosexual himself. He is certainly a radical homosexualist – meaning a person, whether they are homosexual or not, meaning a person who is 100 per cent invested in the homosexual agenda . . . Anyone who is trying to break down the protections for the natural family and legitimize sexual perversion is complicit in the recruitment of children.” To Lively’s mind, marriage equality leads to pedophilia. He has accused gays of a “Marxist plot” to destroy civilization, a global “Satanic conspiracy” that needs a “revolution” of opponents to keep gays from “homosexualizing the whole world.” In his effort to fight the gay scourge, Lively once got in trouble for hiring a convicted sex offender.

Hmm. A group with global reach and a missionary agenda, that corrupts children through deviant sex? Someone should point him in Dolan’s direction.

Paul Cameron. Evangelical psychologist Paul Cameron has spent the last twenty years producing shoddy research aimed at showing that homosexuality leads to health and mental health problems and early death. And criminal tendencies. His work is disseminated by the Family Research Institute, a Colorado Springs organization he founded that is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group. In 1999, Rolling Stone reporter Robert Dreyfuss quoted Cameron as saying that homosexual sex is more pleasurable than heterosexual sex—and without active opposition it would rapidly come to predominate.

In January, when the conservative Christian editor of World Magazine, Marvin Olasky, questioned the effectiveness of Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill, Cameron jumped into the fray, likening homosexuality to murder—or worse—which made the Ugandan law perfectly reasonable: “Laws against murder are harsh and unlikely to be effective (in completely stopping murder). But such laws educate as to what is ‘correct’ and serve as a disincentive to commit murder.”

What is it with Colorado Springs?!

Mark Driscoll. A Calvinist superstar with congregations in five states and a dubious moral compass, Driscoll rouses his flock of 14,000 with titillating talk and tight-ass (True Religion?) jeans. Driscoll has said enough weird and bigoted things to establish his anti-gay bona fides. Consider: “Masturbation can be a form of homosexuality because it is a sexual act that does not involve a woman . . . particularly if he’s watching himself in a mirror and being turned on by his own male body.”

But it tends to be Driscoll’s comments about females that get him the most powerful Phelps effect. When mega-church minister Ted Haggard, who was then head of the National Association of Evangelicals, got caught with meth and a male prostitute, Driscoll fingered Haggard’s wife: “It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness.”

More recently, he sent feminists and even some of his fellow fundamentalists into orbit by recounting a smug story in which he advised a woman that she should apologize to her husband for the sin of not “serving” him, and then should get down on her knees and give him a blow job. By Driscoll’s account this excellent advice caused the husband to start attending church.

Oh, baby.

Albert Mohler. This Southern Baptist luminary writes for “On Faith” and a variety of other media outlets. Years ago, Mohler was instrumental in booting women out of positions of authority in Southern Seminary and reversing the trend toward gender equality among Baptist believers. Today he laments that Christian conservatives have been unable similarly to halt the advance of equality for gays. Mohler simply can’t resist showcasing what the Bible actually says and then following it to the ugly conclusions that derive from the worldview of the writers. Where it lands him is this: “If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted to understand what it means to be human, to reveal what God intends for us sexually, or to define sin in any coherent manner.”



Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Missing Fred Phelps? Five More Religious Leaders Who Drive People From the Church

  1. avengah says:

    Bill Donohue and his one-man band, the Catholic League.


  2. Lorie Lucky says:

    Thaks for the great article, Valerie. You have to wonder how many of those haters are actually gay and full of self-hatred.


  3. mriana says:

    Thanks for the article, Valerie. This is exactly why I didn’t jump for joy when Phelps died, because there are others ready to take his place and besides, I think we’d be just like him if we celebrated his death. So when I heard he’d died, I was like “meh, he’s dead, but his hatred is not dead.”


  4. windotoucher says:

    Bravo! Fascinating article that will keep us on our toes


  5. Perry Bulwer says:

    “[Phelps’]church and family members are descending rapidly into obscurity.”

    Fortunately, some Phelps family members did the right thing and rejected that insanity. Nate Phelps has done some great work trying to counter the evil deeds of his dad. Here’s some recent news about Nate: http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/on-mind-controlling-cults-fred-phelps-and-ockham-awards/

    And Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, granddaughters of Fred Phelps, left the church a few years ago and have been speaking out. I’ve archived numerous articles on the Westboro cult and in the comments section at this link there are some articles about those granddaughters: http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2010/12/westboro-baptist-hate-cult-that.html?showComment=1384196389823#c7682211572894722005

    Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, might be in the running for Christian hate-monger too, if his defense of genocide in Genesis is anything to go by. Here are some quotations from an Oxford talk he gave awhile ago:

    “…God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. […] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.””

    “Then Craig said: “But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent? I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture.””


    • mriana says:

      I wish there was a thumbs up or a like button, because I also appreciate the work that Nate has been doing about this cult, as well as glad to hear Fred Phelp’s granddaughters got out and are speaking out.


    • You are right. I should revise the article to at least note this.


    • avengah says:

      There was that one guy who was an atheist filmmaker or something, who wanted to see what the Westboro folks were like – and somehow this anti-theist ended up indoctrinated into the cult! I remember one of his kids writing something about it. I can’t remember the guy’s name… Blunt or something like that maybe?


      • Errol Mcinnes says:

        Steven Drain. He was producing a film for the BBC, and decided to stay when the filming was over. He claimed athism, and has always had a passion for faschism. The documentary he was producing was with Louis Thorough. It cost them a long time friendship when Thorough tried in another documentary to convince Steve to retreat from the church


      • Lauren Drain, Steve’s daughter is very instrumental in movements to drive the church into obscurity. She was castigated by Steve and forced to leave the church when she expressed her reservations about being so brutally cruel to everyone. She now speaks publicly on being raised in cults, and escaping them.


  6. mikespeir says:

    Tough choice. I’m going with Lively.


  7. JHG says:

    “Driscoll fingered Haggard’s wife” You might want to considered substituted “blamed” or some other word, since “fingered” can have a sexual connotation, and some might get the idea that Driscoll had committed an additional offense beyond his typical obnoxiousness.


  8. Ooh. This guy should have been in the top five: Arizona Pastor Steven Anderson: ‘Whoredom’ Of Childless Women On Birth Control Destroying America http://crooksandliars.com/2014/04/arizona-pastor-whoredom-childless-women,


  9. Allan Avery says:

    2nd try. Behind on my Way Point- in “computer hell.” Wow. What a bunch! And only one of a dozen Christian Species who’s dogma would/will doom us. (Along with all the other Religions, infinite ethnic tribes and clans, oh, and the Don’t Worry, Be Happy well-off folks of all sorts. How to believe that we’ve still got a shot? Well, we just have to; and keep thinking.


  10. gwpj says:

    Great article, Valerie. As Allan Avery says in his comment, “What a bunch!” William Lane Craig, mentioned by Perry Bulwer, makes me nauseous. Interesting people, these, though they give me the creeps.


  11. Pingback: Sunday Links :: The Political Carnival

  12. Pingback: The Weekly Upchuck May 5, 2014 | Being Christian

  13. Pingback: Your Weekly Upchucks: Shocking Religion News by Author K.C. Boyd :: The Political Carnival

  14. word4thesoul says:

    Oh you forgot Dr. Michael Brown!!


  15. And a female contender! Christine Weick! “Weick is the author of Explain This! A Verse by Verse Explanation of the Book of Revelations. She is a born-again Christian. In March, she protested during the trial to overturn Michigan’s gay marriage ban with a sign saying “Warning! God draws a line on gay marriage.”‘ On mother’s Day she held up a sign that said, “Thank Your Mom Today For Not Being Gay.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/12/anti-gay-slushie-mothers-day-protester_n_5309323.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices


  16. Jen says:

    Loving your articles! You can add Bill Gothard to this list–recently ousted for alleged sexual harassment of 30+ girls.


  17. Lindsey says:

    It really just boggles the mind that these nuts enjoy tax exempt status.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s