Westboro Baptist hates America

The Rev. Billy Graham is a Baptist and so is Bill Clinton.

The Rev. Rick "Purpose Driven Life" Warren is a Baptist and so is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Rev. Bob Jones III of Greenville, S.C., is a Baptist and so is the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jr., of New York. The Rev. Bill Moyers is a Baptist, or used to be, and that's also true for the Rev. Pat Robertson.

There are all kinds of Baptists, so saying people are "Baptists" may do little to clarify what they actually believe.

But two things are clear. The first is that the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., is a Baptist. The second is that millions of other Baptists wish Phelps and his infamous flock would stop calling themselves "Baptists."

"It does make you cringe when you read about Phelps and Westboro, because you rarely see anyone stress that these people have no connections to Southern Baptists or to American Baptists or to anybody else," said Greg Warner, editor of the Associated Baptist Press, one of two news agencies that cover Baptist life.

"This is just some of the baggage that comes with being Baptist. It goes with the territory."

Phelps and his followers make keep making headlines because of their protests at military funerals, featuring signs with shocking slogans -- such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." The church has about 60 members, most of them related to Phelps, and teaches that God is punishing America because of this culture's growing acceptance of homosexuality. A jury in Baltimore recently handed down a $10.9 million verdict against Westboro because of its ugly protests at the March 2006 funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who died in Iraq.

At its website -- -- the church offers this history: "Established in 1955 by Pastor Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas still exists today as an Old School (or, Primitive) Baptist Church. ... We adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin (e.g., fornication, adultery, sodomy), and insist that the doctrines of grace be taught publicly to all men. These doctrines of grace were well summed up by John Calvin in his 5 points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Although these doctrines are almost universally hated today, they were once loved and believed."

The church does not, however, appear to be part of the National Primitive Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. Then again, it isn't linked to the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches, the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the American Baptist Association (Landmark Baptists), the Regular Baptist Churches, Reformed Baptist Churches, Free Will Baptist Churches, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A., the Independent, Fundamental Baptist Churches or any other known Baptist group.

Obviously, it's hard for Baptists to agree on a common definition of what "Baptist" means. One online definition states: "A member of an evangelical Protestant church of congregational polity, following the reformed tradition in worship and believing in individual freedom, in the separation of church and state, and in baptism of voluntary, conscious believers."

However, various streams of Baptist life predate the birth of the modern "evangelical" movement. And would Baptists agree they are "reformed" churches or "Reformed," as in rooted in Calvinist teachings? Do Baptists today share a common understanding of the "separation of church and state"? Of course not.

All Baptists would, however, stress a congregational approach to church government and the autonomy of each local congregation. This means that it's all but impossible for any Baptist flock to tell another flock what to do -- unless they're part of a larger voluntarily association or convention.

"Just about anyone can get themselves ordained and then say that they've started a church," said Will Hall, head of the 16.4-million-member Southern Baptist Convention's official Baptist Press news agency.

But in the case of Westboro Baptist, he said, it isn't even enough "to call them an independent Baptist church, because they're not typical of the many independent Baptist churches and missionary Baptist churches out there across America. This is a tiny church that's out there all by itself and that's the way they want it."

Bleeping Baptists pray for bleeping Ozzy

British tabloid veteran Dan Wooding knows a good headline when he hears one. Here a good one for grocery checkout racks: "Churches pray for the Osbournes." Or even better: "Bleeping Baptists asked to pray for the Bleeping Osbournes."

That second headline is true, minus the "bleeping" parts.

The media juggernaut led by Ozzy "The Prince of Darkness" Osbourne and his wife Sharon is back in the news, with mom and dad renewing their marriage vows before a flock of family, friends and the 1970s disco group "Village People." The 20th anniversary rites were delayed several months by Sharon Osbourne's life-and-death struggle with colon cancer.

All of this is, of course, fodder for the hit "reality TV" series about life in the family's Beverly Hills mansion.

"I was watching their show and I thought to myself: we should have Ozzy Osbourne day in churches across America," said Wooding, now a California-based writer for Christian radio and news. "I mean, these are some people who truly need our prayers."

So Wooding wrote a commentary for the Baptist Press wire service and others asking why Christians don't try praying for distressed entertainers, instead of just cursing them.

Wooding wasn't joking, in large part because his own life once veered into the media wonderland occupied by MTV's First Dysfunctional Family. He was born into a missionary family in Nigeria, but raised in Birmingham, England. As a young man, Wooding worked on the warped side of journalism, serving as London correspondent for the National Enquirer, the Sunday Mirror and the Fleet Street tabloids. He chased the Beatles, Monty Python, gangsters, movie stars and everybody else.

It was in 1980 that Wooding -- drunk in London's "Stab in the Back" pub -- hit bottom and vowed to return to the faith. He changed gigs, but also retained his intense interest in entertainment.

"Christians are so QUICK to judge and write people off as lost causes," he said. "The end result is that the only image of Christianity that someone like Ozzy may ever have is angry protestors marching around outside his shows. ... Christians need some option other than pointing a finger at people and yelling."

There is evidence, said Wooding, that Ozzy Osbourne is aware of his own "spiritual desperation," which is symbolized by the myriad crosses in his wardrobe and home Dr. Ozzy has had private talks about faith with superstar keyboardist Rick Wakeman of Yes, who is also one of Wooding's close friends.

And, as Sharon Osbourne told journalists when their MTV series first hit cable: "The best neighbor we've ever had is Pat Boone. We miss him terribly." Of course, that meant the born-again Boone was on one side and cleaned-up rocker Meat Loaf was on the other, daughter Kelly reminded her mother.

"It was," quipped Ozzy, "sort of like a Satan sandwich."

That's funny and so is the family's show. But there is also an undercurrent of unhappiness and pain -- with the children trashing each other, Ozzy living in a daze and Sharon waging war against the "next door neighbors from hell," said Wooding.

What is clear to even the most casual viewer is that whatever peace and stability the clan enjoys is rooted in Ozzy and Sharon's marriage and, especially, in her commitment to support him during his legendary struggles with alcohol, aging, depression and the other forms of madness that accompany heavy-metal superstardom.

"If she goes, I can't even imagine what happens to that man and those children," said Wooding. "So right there, that is something people can pray about. This mother is holding this family together and she has cancer. Pray for her."

In a way, the Osbourne family can serve as a wake-up call for church people who tend to focus only on life in their own sacred circles, he said.

"The Osbournes are not, believe it or not, the most dysfunctional family in America," he concluded. "Millions of families are just as messed up as they are. The Osbournes at least have the courage to admit how messed up they are. The point is that we need to be praying for messed-up families in general and maybe praying for the Osbournes would help some people realize that."