Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right
The congregants thanked God that they weren’t like all those hopeless people outside the church, bound for hell. So the Westboro Baptist Church’s Sunday service began, and Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a curious observer, wondered why anyone would seek spiritual sustenance through other people’s damnation. It is a question that piques many a witness to Westboro’s more visible activity—the “GOD HATES FAGS” picketing of funerals. In God Hates, sociologist Barrett-Fox takes us behind the scenes of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. The first full ethnography of this infamous presence on America’s Religious Right, her book situates the church’s story in the context of American religious history—and reveals as much about the uneasy state of Christian practice in our day as it does about the workings of the Westboro Church and Fred Phelps, its founder.
God Hates traces WBC’s theological beliefs to a brand of hyper-Calvinist thought reaching back to the Puritans—an extreme Calvinism, emphasizing predestination, that has proven as off-putting as Westboro’s actions, even for other Baptists. And yet, in examining Westboro’s role in conservative politics and its contentious relationship with other fundamentalist activist groups, Barrett-Fox reveals how the church’s message of national doom in fact reflects beliefs at the core of much of the Religious Right’s rhetoric. Westboro’s aggressively offensive public activities actually serve to soften the anti-gay theology of more mainstream conservative religious activism. With an eye to the church’s protest at military funerals, she also considers why the public has responded so differently to these than to Westboro's anti-LGBT picketing.
“Barrett-Fox’s contribution to our understanding of Westboro Baptist Church is significant. She carefully explores the rhetoric and practice of the church while also providing a useful history of where the church came from.”
—Journal of Religion
“Barrett-Fox’s work is a noteworthy example of how sustained engagement with, and serious consideration of, one's subject, even one as provocative as the Westboro Baptist church, can produce valuable scholarship. Her comparative work in the book similarly shows not only how the religious margins and center can inform one another, but how relevant work on small and marginal groups can be.”
—Nova ReligioSee all reviews...
“Beautifully written, engaging, and very accessible.”
—Sociology of Religion
“Barrett-Fox gives us the first full-scale examination of Westboro, and it makes for fascinating and horrifying reading.”
—Journal of American History
“If one desires a look inside the Westboro Baptist Church compound to learn how the WBC members explain their behavior and belief system, how they profess to love and care for each other, God Hates is a necessary book.”
“This important book challenges readers to reflect on America’s long history of homophobic religious discourse. It marks a significant and timely mediation on the relationship between religion, sexuality, and civic discourse in a post-Obergefell United States.”
—Journal of Church and State
“A measured account of the work and people of the Westboro Baptist Church. The strength of the book is in its explication of the WBC position’s logic.”
“Barrett-Fox meticulously outlines the theology, history, ministry, and political ideology [of the Westboro Baptist Church].”
—New Territory Magazine
“God Hates is a disturbing book, not because it exposes the theology of hate and homophobia of Westboro Baptist Church—though it does so, powerfully and effectively. It is disturbing because it refuses to distance this church movement from more mainstream segments of the political and religious right. In this sensitive study, Rebecca Barrett-Fox reveals Westboro’s theology of hate to be no less than the political and theological unconscious of the modern Christian Right itself—the less palatable but now fully visible heir to America’s ‘Puritan’ legacy.”
—Anthony Petro, author of After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion
“Rebecca Barrett-Fox examines the infamous Westboro Baptist Church with thick ethnographic descriptions and an illuminating theological analysis that recognizes a shared ideology between these ‘extremists’ and some less reviled, more powerful Christian conservatives.”
—Carol Mason, author of Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering AmericaSee fewer reviews...
With its history of Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, and its profiles of defectors, this book offers a complex, close-up view of a phenomenon on the fringes of American Christianity—and a broader, disturbing view of the mainstream theology it at once masks and reflects.