#102. A Conversation with Megan Phelps-Roper

DISCLAIMER: Just like the ones you see on Blu-Ray discs before movie commentaries, the views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely of the individual being interviewed and are not the views of Fulle Circle Magazine, its parent, affiliate, or subsidiary companies... not that we actually have any.

The BBC produced a TV documentary written and presented by Louis Theroux about the Phelps family, at the heart of the Westboro Baptist Church. It's called "The Most Hated Family in America", and even Megan agrees with the accuracy of that title, but doesn't let it discourage her. She says her family is thankful for it. I've seen a lot of interviews with Megan Phelps, and typically those conversations are buried in shouting and quick editing, and I wanted to hear her out in the privacy of a one-on-one discussion of why she believes what she believes. While my opinions and beliefs are not included in this interview, input and discussion from others on the subject matter is highly encouraged, and in future posts we will look at what is being said here from all angles.

Jason Anders: After all the interviews you've done today, you're probably sick of talking by this point aren't you?

Megan Phelps-Roper: It happens sometimes when you get to the end of a day, but we're all about publishing. That's our goal, and there are a lot of ways to do that, and this is one of them- Talking with people who will take the words and give them to others. It's good. It's a sacrifice, and a thing we are happy to do.

JA: Let's start off with some random questions, like hobbies and things you enjoy. Do you have any favorite movies, music, or books?

MP: The best book I've read recently (other than the Bible, of course) is "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer. It's written mostly from the perspective of a precocious and hilarious nine-year-old whose dad died in 9/11. It was incredibly funny and well-written, but also made me shake my head at the blindness of it all. The sad things the little boy goes through are directly connected to the rebellion of his parents and grandparents, which was taught to him, as well. I kept thinking, there's a solution to this suffering: obey God! God promised blessings for obedience and curses for proud sin. I understand that the book is a work of fiction; I also understand that the picture it paints, total rejection of God's standards, followed by curses of the worst kind, is absolutely typical of our generation. It's a sick thing people do to their kids, raising them for Satan and thereby bringing curses in this life and Hell in the next. It's sick.

I also just started reading "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself", about a road trip taken by a Rolling Stone reporter with David Foster Wallace, the author who committed suicide in 2008. "Pride and Prejudice" is a great book.

Favorite movies would be The Town, Inception, Date Night, The Other Guys, A Few Good Men, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Gladiator, Slumdog Millionaire, and Arthur with Dudley Moore. It's so funny! I watched it with my uncle Tim when I was younger; we still drop one-liners from the movie at random moments... "Where is the rest of this moose?" So great!

My favorite songs are an ever-evolving thing. Some current ones: "Sydney" by Brett Dennen; "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People; "Let's Go Surfing" by The Drums; "Excuses" and "Virgins" both by The Morning Benders; everything from Mumford & Sons; and "Love and Make a Lie" (WBC parody of Eminem/Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie").

JA: Do you feel like you ever have a relaxed interview where you can get your thoughts across without being attacked?

MP: It all depends on where it takes place and who you're talking to. If the person is asking sincere questions and listening to the answers then obviously those are calmer and you can discuss things in more intricate detail. Sometimes you've got people who are angry, and that's not unusual for people to be angry when they hear these words. Sometimes you have to fight more to get your words out there. We're willing and able to do both. Growing up talking to people on the streets, you get a lot of education on how to handle them and find the best way to get your point across.

JA: How do you deal with the way you're represented, such as the BBC labeling you "America's Most Hated Family"?

MP: I think that is absolutely accurate. I think these words are powerful. Hebrews says that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." So people can pretend to be disinterested or unaffected, but the fact is that every person who sees these words are going to have to render a decision, and that's just the way it is. That filmmaker hates these words that we preach, and he hates that we hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold all others.

We don't go out on the streets and tell people they have to obey God and then not do it ourselves.

JA: So what do you believe that you were put on this earth to do?

MP: The answer is very simple. It's in one of my favorite scriptures because it shows you with simplicity that is this life. It says in Ecclesiastes, "This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

That's your whole job in this life. God set His standards, and this isn't a difficult proposition. It says in Deuteronomy, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God." We see and believe those words. Nothing on our signs come from anything other than the scriptures. We don't make stuff up and then try and find it in the scriptures, we read it there first and then it goes on our signs.

The way that you glorify God is by obeying Him, and when it says to love your neighbor it actually tells you how to do that. You obey God, and then you warn and encourage your neighbor to obey God. "In any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him." -Leviticus 19:17. All these people talk about loving their neighbors, and so many people throw that verse in our face. It's so funny because the verse gives you the definition of love, and because they don't know what those verses actually say... they don't say to accept everyone. You don't accept and encourage proud sin, because if you do you are pushing them down the path to Hell. You don't encourage it knowing that the consequences of that sin are curses in this life and Hell in the next.

We're actually proud to be "America's Most Hated Family"... my mom actually asked the BBC if they could bump it up to being the "Most Hated Family in the World." In Luke, Christ speaks "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!" We are to literally rejoice in that day, because that is how the prophets were treated. That is how Christ himself was treated. Matthew 5:12: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." That is how we react to that label.

JA: In relation to the picketing, I just wanna throw a verse at you, then you tell me how you interpret it. Luke 6:37: "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned."

MP: First of all, we're declaring to you what the judgement of God is on all these issues. In John 7:24 it says "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." To parallel with the one you just quoted is Matthew 7:2: "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." The point is that you're not supposed to substitute your judgement for the judgment of God, you're supposed to make those judgments according to the standards that God has clearly laid out in the scriptures.

If you substitute your judgement for God, whatever that is, you're going to set your own standard and fail according to that standard. If you keep going in Matthew, you'll see another one that gets thrown in our faces a lot, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye."

Based on that scripture people tell us we can't say anything because we have a beam in our own eyes, but that's not what the passage says. It's telling you to put your sin away, and then you'll see the beam in another's eye. It's all about knowing hypocrisy, and not elevating your thoughts and judgments above those of God. It's such a powerful thing to me that Christ said "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." The only way you're going to find a righteous judgement is with the judgement of God. That's what we do. These are not our words. These are not our standards. These are the standards of God. We don't put it on a sign unless it is written in scripture.

JA: Do you believe that someone can be both a Christian and a homosexual?

MP: No. Those are two mutually exclusive things. And here's why: A person who has any fear of God, and any understanding of God calling that an abomination, even if you're not engaging in the conduct, wouldn't give themselves that label knowing it is an abomination to God. A lot of people say there are gay Christians, but Christ makes it clear by saying in Matthew, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?" One man. One woman. Any person with any other idea about what that should be is contrary to God's standard.

JA: How do other Baptist churches respond to what you do?

MP: What we hear is "We are not associated with them. They are not representative of Baptists." And let me say, we are completely independent. We are called Baptist not after these monster churches or Southern Baptist Convention, but by John the Baptist who taught repentance. You could take away the label and just call us the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no affiliation with any other denomination in any other church. New Testament churches are local, autonomous, and self-governing.

JA: Has the negative response by the majority of the world ever made you second-guess your beliefs and interpretations?

MP: Well you can't listen to the whole world tell you that you're a total nutter without thinking "Am I nuts?" But the answers are in the scriptures. When the whole world is telling you that God loves everyone, and then you flip open a Bible to Malachi 1 you'll see that God says "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." That sounds pretty clear. God said He hated Esau, so clearly God doesn't love everyone. There are so many more verses that talk about the hatred of God.

Psalm 5:5 says "The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers." The Bible is full of the wrath of God. We say that God is punishing this nation and this generation because they teach rebellion against Him. God set a standard, for example, "no fornication"... in this country you're a freak if you're not fornicating by the time you're fourteen. People laugh us to scorn when we say God is punishing them for that. There's this awesome verse in Ephesians that says "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." The connection could not be more clear in the scriptures, and we are laughed to scorn because we say we believe those words.

It makes you think for a second, "what is going on here?" Just look on Twitter to see what all the people are saying about our church and everyone in it. When the whole world is telling you that God loves everyone, and then you look in the scriptures and see God's hatred for people... I don't think we're crazy. And the reason I don't think that is because I've had a lot of clear study in the scriptures. With that kind of dichotomy, all you have to do is compare what people tell you to what the Bible says, and you can see for yourself. Most people don't even bother to look. That's why we're out there... for education.

JA: So would you say that your picketing is to affect people, or is it to effect the legal system?

MP: Well, there's a couple of things... one of them is the Great Commission. Christ said "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." That is our primary goal, to obey that commandment. It's also in fulfillment of "love thy neighbor as thyself." There's a verse in Leviticus that pertains to the signs we make which says "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." He says instead of hating your neighbor, tell him there are consequences for his sin.

If you see a child run out into the middle of the street who doesn't see the danger, and you don't warn him, then you hate him in your heart. You just leave him out there to get killed. It's even worse, though, because you're not talking about bodily death. Your talking about Hell. Our goal is to obey the standards God set with "love thy neighbor as thyself" and "preach the gospel to every creature." How it lands on people's hearts is not in our hands, it's not in our power to change people's hearts. That is the exclusive prerogative of God. We can't change the message or manipulate people into believing it. We can't sugar-coat it. You can't tell people that most people are going to Hell. You can't tell them that in a way that they're going to like it. "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many."

Our goal isn't to change people's minds. That's not in our power. "So that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” This message will either harden their hearts, or prick their conscience and make them say "Lord, what must I do to be saved?" These words may take root in their hearts, and they will engage in conduct that shows they have repented. It's going to be one of those two things. You're either a person who has a conscience toward God, or you are hard-hearted against Him.

JA: Tell me about your relationship with Kevin Smith. Would you consider him a friend, acquaintance, or do you take offense to what he says about you?

MP: I think that I am his friend, but I don't think he's mine. Instead of encouraging me to obey God, he does the opposite. He has the whole Twitter "Save Megan" that he promotes, trying to pretend like service to God is a bad thing or an evil thing. On his "Red State" poster I wrote "Woe unto him who calls good evil, and evil good." That's a warning from God. Kevin Smith obviously has talent and can be very funny, but he insists on including a lot of perversion in the things that he says. He could be hilarious without that. But he loves it. He loves perversion and he loves sin, and that's what he promotes. Therefore, according to God's standards, he hates all of those people who listen to him. If he loved them, he would tell them the truth.

As far as offense, do you see some of the stuff that he says to me? It's the some of the most explicit and perverse, truly shameful stuff. If anyone else said that stuff to me on Twitter they'd get blocked, but the reason he doesn't is that he has a platform and any time that he posts anything about us, we will start getting tweets. "Kevin Smith and Megan Phelps are at it again! Get the popcorn!" I'm not just talking to him but to all of his followers. It's a sad thing that I've had to learn not to use certain words or phrases when I talk to him. I try to make the things that I write as explicit as possible without using phrases that I know he will turn into something perverted.

He and I cannot have a normal conversation without feeling like I am stepping in a mine field. He was very nice when I saw him face to face at the "Red State" premiere, he was appropriate. And then we walked away and we're in the car tweeting about what happened, and I get a tweet from him about something sexual. It's a shameful thing that he does, but we're willing to take the abuse.

JA: Did you ever make it through "Red State", and what are your thoughts on what you saw?

MP: It was really perverted. We left in the first fifteen minutes to send a message. I've never walked out of a movie before, ever in my life... even when it is absolutely disgusting. When you're sitting in an audience of people who know the standards of God and know that we are there, actions speak louder than words. It worked out great on both sides- We didn't have to sit there and watch it, and I am glad I didn't have to see my cousin and my brother who both left the church several years ago. They went up on stage after the show and did an interview that was part of a podcast, which I didn't listen to. He said we couldn't take "Red State", which we can... we're just not going to. I'll probably eventually watch it... just with the fast forward button.

JA: If you had to sum up what you believe you're here to do with just one sentence, what would it be?

MP: One of my favorite Bible quotes, because it tells you your whole duty in life, is in Ecclesiastes: "This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." That's your whole job in this life. How do you keep the commandments of God if you don't even know what they are? You've got to study it, learn it, and then you've got to do it.