The good, the bad and the ugly (then the beautiful) of the people who brought you ‘God Hates Fags’ and picket the funerals of dead soldiers.
The latest instalment in the BBC series on Westboro Baptist Church – Louis Theroux: Surviving America’s Most Hated Family – was released in the UK overnight, and as you might expect, it’s generated a lot of discussion.
The film – the third in a stunning series by journalist Louis Theroux that’s spanned more than a decade – has been widely anticipated, after Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) rocketed into international consciousness with their infamous ‘God hates fags’ posters.
Louis Theroux: The Most Hated Family In America introduced the world to the Topeka, Kansas based church in 2007. Church members – of which there was about 70 when Theroux first documented them – became infamous across the US for picketing the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reason? WBC members believe God is punishing America for accepting homosexuality, and so the church travels the country to protest at soldiers’ funerals to drive home that point.
The second film in the series – Louis Theroux: The Return of America’s Most Hated Family – revisited the church in 2011, after WBC got swept up in its international notoriety. It showed a church that, while losing a few members, was even more emboldened and determined to spread the ‘word of God’… specifically, that ‘fags and fag enablers’ are going to hell. Which is pretty much all of us.
The third film reportedly takes a slightly sadder direction, focussing on some of the more high-profile former members who left the church since 2011.
One of those is Megan Phelps-Roper, the grand-daughter of the now deceased founder and pastor of WBC, Fred Phelps. Megan is also the daughter of Shirley Phelps, perhaps the best known of the WBC members.
Theroux returns to question Shirley about the loss of her daughters (Grace also left the church) and while she maintains the ‘rage’, there’s definitely a more sombre, human side to the church members on show.
If you’ve never seen the series, it’s compelling viewing. So extreme are some of the church members that they make Israel Folau’s hate-speech look utterly mild by comparison.
BBC is planning to release the film on BBC Knowledge on BBC Knowledge (available on Foxtel and Fetch TV) later in the year. In the interim, you can catch up on the first two films which still reside on Stan, if you have a subscription.
One of the other things you can catch up on before the third film hits Australia is this TedX talk by Megan Phelps-Roper from 2017.
After appearing to be one the church’s more staunch members, Megan found a new, more gentle way to live courtesy of, believe it or not, social media.
After interacting with people from around the world via her Twitter account, she eventually walked away from Westboro, before marrying one of her ‘followers’.
Phelps-Roper now talks widely on the problems with extremism, and provides a pretty salutary lesson in both forgiveness and a gentler way to move through the world, particularly the social media world.
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