Russell Moore: Westboro Baptist Are Not Baptists; Think 'Book of Mormon' Broadway Play to LDS Church

Westboro Baptist Church
Members from the Westboro Baptist Church protest the upcoming premiere of "Red State" during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 23, 2011. |

Since Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church first began receiving extensive media coverage for its public and coarse denouncement of homosexuals, and picketing funerals and churches, members of the Southern Baptist denominaton have been quick to draw the line between themselves and the unaffiliated church.

With 15 million members, the Southern Baptist denomination is the second-largest faith group in the United States, behind Roman Catholicism.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, provided an example to The Associated Press in a recent interview to make the distinction between Phelps and the Southern Baptist denomination by comparing the group to the "Book of Mormon."

"Westboro Baptist is to Baptist Christianity what the 'Book of Mormon' Broadway play was to the Latter-day Saints," Moore told the AP in the aftermath of Phelp's death Wednesday night. "They were kind of a performance art of vitriolic hatred rather than any kind of religious organization."

Any seeming connection between WBC and Southern Baptists likely came because of confusion over the word "Baptist" and not was not due to any of the denomination or Phelps' statements or actions.

Phelps, a former civil rights attorney, once described Southern Baptist preaching as "kissy-pooh," because of its focus on the love of God, and also organized protests of the SBC's annual meetings, churches and their Nashville building as early as 2003, reported the Baptist Press.

That same year, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President, R. Philip Roberts, suggested that "Southern Baptists ought to take it as a badge of honor that he would boycott [us]."

Four years later, Dr. Richard Land, the president Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of The Christian Post, spoke out against WBC's funeral protests calling them "nothing less than verbal pornography and obscenity," and said that the First Amendment should not protect the church's right to promulgate its message.

"These twisted, sub-biblical perversions of the Christian faith are particularly dangerous in an increasingly biblically illiterate society that has only a cursory and decreasing knowledge of the Bible's content and teachings," Land said. "God does not hate anybody and God would never countenance the use of a demeaning and derogatory word like 'fag' to describe a human being for whom His Son died. God loathes and detests homosexuality, but God loves the homosexual."

In 2010, Roger S. Oldham, the vice president for convention relations for the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said his denomination "repudiated" Phelps' tactics and found them "offensive."

"However, we do not rush to cast stones at them. We rather grieve for them. We grieve when any individual or group that identifies itself as Christian draws attention to itself and away from the cross of Christ, whether it is us or others," he told Baptist Press.

On a FAQ page on the Southern Baptist Commission website, the denomination states its belief that homosexuality is a sin, but adds that Phelps' "extreme positions" "stand in contrast to God's word."

"The Bible also clearly proclaims God's love for all sinners, including homosexuals, and that He offers forgiveness to all who repent and place their faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ for our sins," it states.

Beyond the Southern Baptists, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the National Primitive Baptist Convention, the North American Baptist Convention, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the Baptist General Conference of America and the North American Baptist General Conference have all distanced themselves from the WBC.

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