Church group believes war punishment for immorality

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Editor’s note: Funeral services for Sgt. Leroy “J.R.” Segura Jr. are 10 a.m. Monday at Sacred Heart Church.

They spread a message of hate and condemnation without apology. In fact, members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., embrace the national animosity they have received and use it as fuel to push their message all the more.

Church members announced last week they plan to picket Monday’s funeral service for Sgt. Leroy Segura Jr., 23, a Clovis soldier killed Aug. 4 in a vehicle accident in Iraq.

Clovis city officials have planned to counter the Westboro plans by asking the community to carry flags and line the route of the funeral procession in an attempt to honor Segura and his family.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, 48, said she is the daughter of the Westboro church’s pastor and founder, Fred Phelps Sr. She said she has been a member of the church all her life and raised her 11 children within the church’s teachings.

Her children travel with her and attend protests, holding signs for the cause. Her youngest child is 4, she said.

Monitored as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to Wikipedia online encyclopedia, Westboro Baptist Church is considered by many to be a cult denomination of Christianity.

Though it identifies itself as Baptist, Westboro is “not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions,” Wikipedia reports.

Often members do not show up for protests they have announced they will attend, the Web site said.

The group began its protest ministry 16 years ago, Phelps-Roper said, when it mobilized in an effort to prevent homosexuals from gathering at a park in its community. Since that time a street ministry program has been formed; it’s geared toward daily preaching against disobedience of God, immorality and the deterioration of values.

Homosexuality, divorce, abortion and extramarital sex are some of the topics members address, she said.

Although some of their beliefs may align with many conservative platforms, Phelps-Roper said her group clearly departs from contemporary conservatism in its mode of conduct. Westboro often finds mainstream Christians to be their strongest critics, she said.

Westboro staged its first protest at a military funeral in June 2005. It has picketed dozens of soldier funerals this year and plans three more on Monday, according to its Web site.

The church does not take an anti-war position, Phelps-Roper said. Members believe the war in Iraq is direct punishment from God for the sins and perversions of U.S. citizens.

That conclusion, she said, is the reason they attend military funerals holding signs proclaiming, “God hates dead soldiers” and “Soldiers die, God laughs.”

She said God is responsible for the war in Iraq.

“Just think about how we got into this war; we were duped,” she said. “The cause was God; he’s the one that did it.”

She said Americans are “flipping off God with their filthy manner of life,” and that’s why God is killing soldiers.

Phelps-Roper said she feels sorrow when a soldier dies and she sees the family in mourning. But she said her sorrow is not for their loss; she said it is because they failed their child by not teaching him or her to obey God’s word.

“It’s overwhelming, some days it brings you tears,” she said. “What you see is they are all little microcosms of America. I think, ‘If you love this child, why didn’t you do your duty to them? If you love your child, why didn’t you do right by them? You got his (God’s) wrath directly on your head,’” she said.

Clovis prideTo honor the soldier killed Aug. 4 in Iraq, Clovis Mayor David Lansford is asking citizens to come out at 11 a.m. Monday to line the streets and wave flags as a procession leaves the church on its way to Fort Sumner, where Segura will be buried.

The route will start at Merriwether Street and go up Seventh Street to Veterans Park. For information: 769-7828.