British comedian Russell Brand took on members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church group on his late-night talk show this week, engaging in a quasi-serious debate on the Bible, arguing that love, not hate, was Jesus' principle message.
"Have you considered that the Bible, like all religious doctrine, may be allegorical and symbolic, to direct us toward one holy entity of love," Brand, who is a Hindu, asked Steve Drain and Timothy Phelps from WBC, "as opposed to a simplistic, litigious text to direct the behavior of human beings? The Bible wasn't written by a cosmic entity."
Westboro members are known for their inflammatory signs and comments accusing people of all walks of life of going to hell. They have especially been vocal against homosexuals and U.S. soldiers, who they see as defending a country that is deep in sin – according to their view of the Bible. They have picketed soldiers' funerals and regularly protest against big-name celebrities who they say are leading people to hell – Brand included.
Drain and Phelps came on stage to subdued applause and hesitant boos from an audience not quite sure how to welcome what has been branded as a hate-group by the majority of Christian and secular organizations. Drain and Phelps carried a present for the comedian – a sign with an image of his head that read "Fag Pimp Brand."
"You are advocate for sin – and a very loud one at that," Phelps said, explaining the poster.
When "The Russell Brand Show" audience booed, the comedian told them to quiet down, saying that it takes "bravery and courage" to come out to a room full of people "that almost certainly won't agree with you." The comedian said he was interested in what the WBC members had to say.
"You make your living making a mockery of sin," Drain said. Phelps added that this means that Brand actually hates his audience, because he was encouraging them to live a lifestyle that will send them to hell.
The Englishman disagreed, saying that he loves his fans and would never encourage them to do something that is harmful to themselves or others.
"From a Bible standard, we love you all," Drain continued, saying that all they are doing is warning people about where their choices in life might lead them. "God hates fags. I know it's not popular, but we're not making this stuff up. It's right in the Bible."
Brand and his guests then got into a discussion about the Bible, with the host saying that from what he knows about Jesus, his main message was about "tolerance and love and truth and beauty and acceptance."
Drain argued that Brand doesn't get to define the love of God – "Nor do you," Brand fired back, laughing.
When Drain tried to offer Bible verses to support his claim, the host insisted that the holy book was written by humans.
Drain countered that the Bible was written by the Holy Spirit, but Brand quipped that "the Holy Spirit ain't got a pen."
Trying to move away from the subject of sexual sin, the comedian asked his guests whether God doesn't care more about ecological disasters, or the growing power of corporations.
What followed next was a "game segment", where Brand named various famous people, asking the WBC members to decide whether or not they were going to hell.
Madonna, Tom Hanks and Gandhi all got the hell treatment – the audience was particularly surprised by the last condemnation, with Drain explaining that Gandhi coined the phrase "God hates the sin but loves the sinner" – described as a "dangerous lie" by the controversial church.
"Well if (expletive) Gandhi's going down, none of us are safe," Brand remarked to laughs from the audience.
The last segment of the 10-minute clip had Brand call out a few gay men who identify as Christians on stage. They stated that their position and views in life aligned with Jesus' teachings – to a response of "filthy perverts" from Phelps, whose father Fred W. Phelps started the controversial independent Baptist movement.
Upon ending the program, the comedian told Phelps and Drain that they are "nice people" and that he likes their passion, but that he feels "our first duty as human beings is to be loving and tolerant to one another, and we're facing so much crisis and difficulties at this time on our planet, we can't focus on people's privacy."
Brand offered hugs on the way out to the WBC members, but only Drain consented to a pat on the back before leaving the stage.