The Westboro Baptist Church. You know 'em. They're the collection of 40 or so people that wave those rainbow colored "God Hates Fags" posters and protest the funerals of deceased servicemen and women. Sheesh.
But, did you know, that since the ousting of founder and former leader Fred Phelps, the church has been led by Steve Drain, a guy with a PhD in Philosophy? Here's where things get weird -- in contrast to the shouting maniacs you see on TV, Drain is well spoken, measured and even amiable. Here's were things get weirder -- he used to be in a rock band called Boneyard that had moderate local success in Kansas City, and he has a healthy command of the Ramones, Green Day and even the Sex Pistols. In fact, the WBC has posted a parody of Green Day's "Wake Me When September Ends" called "Coming Soon" and one of "American Idiot" called "American Sodomite?"
And here's where things get even weirder -- some of the topics of classic punk songs, such as the end of the world, being against foreign conflict and churches being money driven, are shared by the WBC. Sheesh.
Because there is a bizarre Venn diagram where punk rock and the WBC seem to cross, we talked to Drain about this unsettling intersection and his opinions on classic punk tunes. Also, we asked him about the Dwarves because that is a hilarious thing to do.
Can you tell me what the Westboro Baptist Churchâs general beliefs are?
We believe in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the word of God. We believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God into the minds and hearts of men. therefore, it is the blueprint, or instruction manual, of all the men who have ever lived. It is not the complete will of God, but it is the part revealed that is necessary for us to live in the moral realm.
What we believe, and what every man who thinks about it for a second believes, we live in what is fundamentally a moral universe. We donât live in a physical universe even though we have physicality all around us. Anyone that says that we live principally in a physical universe would have to drop in the depth in their hearts and mind for a moral system. But, as soon as somebody punches you in the nose or steals your iPad, you cry foul. You cry foul because there are moral rules and laws.
What are the derivations for those moral rules? Lots of people have different explanations for those rules, like not harming somebody, or arbitrary ideas, or when in Rome do as the Romans do, but what we are saying is that the moral law that governs all the men whoever have been born is the word of God.
The problem is that most men donât like to be governed by such things. They donât like to be governed by law that tells them that they donât want to do. So, what they do, is reshape the moral laws to comport to what their own desires and likes are. So what theyâve done is exalted their reasoning in place of the scripture. The Bible is the word of God, and out of our obedience to God, we do everything to obey that word.
If you know anything about the Bible, part of that is to not only do those things yourself, but warn your neighbors when they are doing things that are taking them to hell. The lord Jesus Christ said a new commandment I give to you is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. In Leviticus 17, 18 and 19, the only Bible definition is given on how to love your neighbor. You canât take a willy-nilly Hallmark conception of how to love your neighbor -- the Bible says how to love your neighbor. The Bible says that if your neighbor is sinning, for their eternal well-being, you have to say something to them.
Letâs say that you and I were friends, and that we were walking down the street, except that you were walking backwards and I was walking forwards. And I look past your shoulder and see that you are about to walk off a cliff. The loving thing for me to do at that point is not to say, "keep going," that would be a cruel thing for me to do. It would not be for me to not say anything, that would be a cruel thing for me to do. Youâre going to walk backwards over that cliff, the only loving thing for me to do would be to say "stop," and say it loud enough for you to stop. Thatâs why we warn people in the name of Jesus Christ.
Would it be fair to say, that when you picket peopleâs funerals, and protest at the funerals of dead soldiers, you actually think that you love the people attending the funerals and the recently deceased?
The media loves irony. So, this is kind of ironic. From a Bible perspective, not only do we love those people, but we are the only ones that truly do. Those people who will coddle their neighbors in their sin and tell them that theyâre ok, or tell them that itâs ok to be gay, or that itâs ok to abort babies, those people donât love their neighbors. What Iâm trying to say is that from a Bible perspective, we are the only ones that love them. They certainly donât love one another.
Then Iâm curious as to why you have signs that say thing like "God Hates Fags" and "God Hates Dead Soldiers." That seems to be in direct contrast to what you just said. Itâs the opposite to what we are talking about.
No. Itâs not the opposite at all. We are talking about the difference between a human hatred, a human passion that you and I might feel, and the hatred of Almighty God. The hatred of Almighty God is way, way different than the hatred of man. The hatred of God is expressed in scriptures from Genesis to the Revelation. Basically, it is his determination to punish the wicked in hell for their sins. There is more scripture dedicated to describing the hatred and despising and abhorring of God Almighty than his love or mercy. Thatâs because his love and mercy is reserved for the penitent, the people who are ashamed of their sins. His love and mercy is not for the people who defy Him or say "Iâm proud of my sins."
Think of the simple concept, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as one does with womankind. It is an abomination." Then you have a whole nation that says not only is it ok to be gay, but anyone that says anything different, we will try to demonize, marginalize or vilify, we are talking about people who arenât interested in any kind of fear or meekness or reverence concerning the word of God. All I can tell you there is that there is a big, biiiig difference between the hatred of man and the hatred of God. Hatred is one of His perfect attributes along with love and mercy.
Some more extreme religions are against the concept of music itself, or believe that music should only cover religious topics. Does the Westboro Baptist Church have an official stance on music?
We have a stance on music. The substance is this. We know that most musicians express immoral ideology, like encouraging someone to be something that is against Godâs law. We also know that those lyrics are edifying. We also know this. Almost all music that is of a moral nature, is going to express things other than God.
Iâm not going to sit here and be so self-righteous and say that anytime you listen to music that is outside the view of God, Iâm not going to listen to it. What I am able to do -- I used to play in a rock band when I was in grad school -- what I like to do is divorce myself content wise and divorce myself from the artist and the art. If you are not able to separate the art from the artist, youâll always be in the quagmire of saying, "Well, I really wanted to like that movie, but Mel Gibson is a piece of shit, so Iâm not going to like that movie." Iâm able to separate those two.
We also believe in a sovereign God. In other words, a blade of grass is cut at a certain height -- things are determined by the will of God. So, with music, God wrote the lyrics for every AC/DC song and for every Ramones song. Whether or not people can obey God as opposed to obeying the morality espoused in those songs, is just one of the tests that man faces every day.
What kind of rock band were you in? Was it punk rock, hard rock, college rock?
It depends on who you ask. The music scene in the early-to-mid-'90s was kind of a weird scene. The Seattle thing had started to become big. I was in the Midwest scene. I was in grad school in Kansas. The band that I was in was called Boneyard and we made a couple records and we played around. We did a little bit better in the blue collar towns than in the college towns and I think thatâs because we just played hard driving rock and roll.
We didnât have a novelty to what we were doing. We played loud with Marshall stacks. We didnât play covers. We played all original music. One of our records was reviewed in the "Pitch" weekly in Kansas City and they called it "'80s arena rock" which I thought was kind of insulting. To me, '80s arena rock, has to be loud, very major, very mainstream. I didnât think our music was particularly mainstream. It certainly wasnât very happy music. Maybe we would have done better if we had played a decade later -- that same kind of music. More than anything else, it was just kind of therapy for guys in the band. I was working on a PhD for philosophy at the time, I bumped into a couple guys that were very good musicians and we got together and played some music and just had fun for a couple of years.
Many religious demonstration groups know nothing of pop culture. Yet, the Westboro Baptist Church makes parodies of Lady Gaga, Green Day and the Beatles. Why is Westboro Baptist Church so aware of pop culture compared to other religious demonstration groups?
Thatâs a good question, one of the best ones that Iâve been asked in a while and hereâs the answer. Because we take seriously that we have a duty to preach the word of God to every creature that we share oxygen with on Earth at this time and pop culture is one of those segments. The young people, their moral leaders are not the dusty old farts up in the pulpit that preach this stuff, the moral leaders of the youth culture are the Lady Gagas of the world, the Howard Sterns of the world, the Green Days of the world.
What we're doing is trying to speak to those people where they live. If we parody a Green Day song, and put Bible appropriate lyrics in the song instead of the filth that those guys come up with, we are trying to take seriously the idea that those people in the youth culture are just as deserving as truth as anybody else is. The youth culture is not going to go to the pulpit, because those guys are liars. We understand just like the youth culture that Christianity has been used to do lots of bad things. We know that almost everybody that calls themselves a preacher or church just want your money -- they donât give a damn about your soul. So, the last thing in the world that Iâm going to do to reach the youth culture is work in this dusty old fart way of hypocrisy.
What Iâm going to do is find out what avenues you use -- do you use Twitter, Facebook, do you like pop music? Do you like rap music? Iâm going to try to do something to get your attention for just a minute because I love you enough, and all the members of the Westboro Baptist Church love you enough, to think that you are deserving of that truth as well.
We take very seriously what we do. Weâre not trying to win friends or influence people. Weâre trying to talk to you where you live.
Did you see the Touche Amore t-shirt that commented on Fred Phelpsâ death?
I saw it.
What is your opinion of the t-shirt or the statement?
Well, look. As I told you before. our message is not popular. Itâs not a popular message to say that 99.999 percent of the people born in this world are going to go to hell and spend an eternity in torment. Itâs not a popular message. We are used to being demonized and vilified, and quite frankly, not being taken very seriously. That t-shirt is just part of the litany of things that are trying to demonize or marginalize our preaching.
But, I gotta say, our preaching is not about any man. The Lord doesnât need me, the Lord doesnât need Fred Phelps or anybody else. His word will be preached by me or somebody else. And if there isnât anybody to do it, the scripture says stones will cry it out. The scripture is not about any man. The media has tried to make it about men and demonizing and marginalizing Fred Phelps or me or Shirley, or any of the people that have been out in the media. To me, itâs just another in a long line of sad commentary. Instead of having intellectual integrity, as soon as we say something that you donât like to hear, they demonize or marginalize us.
Would you say that Westboro Baptist Church is extreme in its beliefs?
Well, by todayâs standards, Iâd have to say yes. Let me put a caveat there. The stuff that we preach is exactly the same stuff, with a couple of different colloquialisms, itâs exactly the same stuff that was preached from pulpits around this country and around Europe three hundred years ago. The word is not new, and certainly at one time, was way more mainstream thinking than what people are thinking now.
Nowadays, thereâs no truth being preached in these last days. So, when we preach what we preach, people look at it as being extreme or edgy or cultish, or those kinds of things. Alls I have to say to those people is that the reason what you are hearing sounds extreme is because you are not used to hearing it. If you had lived 300 years ago in America or 300 years ago in Europe, you would have heard these same things.
It was mainline in the original 13 colonies of the United States. Every one of the 13 colonies had laws prohibiting sodomy. Now, in all institutions in life, in churches, in business, in entertainment media, they all say that itâs ok to be gay. Thatâs why what we say seems extreme. But, it only seems extreme because you are not used to hearing. We are not saying anything new. We havenât invented any ideas. We arenât saying anything that wasnât preached in the Americas 300 years ago.
Did you get those songs that I sent to you?
I did. I saw what you were really getting at was the lyrical aspect because of the messages in the song. As a genre of music, for people, punk rock as a genre is about a sound, and it looks like you are more thoughtful than that. It seems to be more ideological driven today and very political.
What did you think of "Bodies" by the Sex Pistols? Some people interpret that as an anti-abortion song?
Musically, one of the more interesting tracks you asked me to weigh in on. The Sex Pistols, as counter culture as they put themselves out as being, were cleverly ironic in naming themselves -- from a marketing standpoint. Abortion is bloody murder. In this evil world, foolish women rip the babies out of their wombs after -- usually -- casual fornication with foolish men. They want the pleasure of fornication, and are willing to kill to keep the "fallout" of their fornication from "ruining" their lives. God says ,"Thou shalt not kill." period. Anyone who read this and disagrees -- just ask yourself if you'd be able to read this, disagree -- or even have a THOUGHT without a life -- an existence. You should all thank God for our lives, and obey His word as evidence of this gratitude. No fornication. No murder. Period.
The Westboro Baptist Church is against foreign wars. Crass had a lot of songs against foreign wars, too. What did you think of "How Does It Feel To Be The Mother of a Thousand Dead?"
War is wrong, and is almost always guided by selfish, craven motives. "Thou shalt not kill" is the antidote. War is bad, m'kay? And musically, kinda boring and predictable. I realize that punk rock is more about ideas and emotion than musicianship, but maybe mix in a little thought to your composition?
The Cro-Mags have the song "World Peace" which has the line "world peace canât be done." There is also a line about AIDS, which the band has stated was about how the disease was affecting people of all sexualities, and few people understood how it was contracted. What do you think of that song?
There will never be peace when the world is filled with people who live in callous defiance against God. Fear God and keep His commandment is the only rational life-driving motto that would result in peace. There is no peace without obedience to God. And AIDS is not spread by obedience to God -- it is spread by disobedience. And for any cutesy "What about transfusions" retorts, we say this: the only hope you have, in this life or eternity to come, is the love, mercy and grace of God upon you. Otherwise, AIDS is a picnic compared to what lies ahead in eternity for each and every person to ever draw breath. Decent drummer -- at least he can keep time.
Then there is the Bad Brainsâ "Destroy Babylon", which many people think is about God destroying the Earth for manâs sins.
The guitar tones sound a bit like Living Color on meth. God WILL destroy the earth, and nearly all people alive when He returns, for their sins.
You mentioned that you feel many preachers just want peopleâs money. The Dead Kennedysâ "Religious Vomit" seems to be about that very subject.
The overwhelming majority of churches in this world are precisely as the DKs express. The churches in America work just like whorehouses: you give them some money, and they make you feel good. Can't argue with the message, in the main -- but true religion, or sincere, heartfelt, reverent fear of God and obedience to His commandments is the antidote. Organized religion is responsible for many, many horrific sins and has been, in the main, a prime culprit in lying to people about the true nature of morality. But you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Fear God. Read the Bible. Stay away from mainline churches. Their "pastors" are wolves in sheep's clothing.
The Dwarves seem to espouse the exact opposite belief of the Westboro Baptist Church -- a life of hedonism. What do you think of "The Dwarves are Still the Best Band Ever?"
Interesting mix-in of some playful musicality in the song's opening verse -- then back to overused lack of musical creativity that seems to plague much of the genre. The whole world, in one way or another, builds moral structures that play to hedonism, even if only implicitly. The morality of the world's people is simply: if it feels good, do it -- which is the definition of hedonism. We are called to live soberly and righteously in this earth, which is to again say: Fear God and keep His commandments -- for this is the whole duty of man.
Does the Westboro Baptist Church think the end of the world is imminent?
We do think that itâs coming soon. As a matter of fact, I was just mentioning to you the parody of the Green Day song, "Wake Me When September Ends." That was off of American Idiot. We did a parody of that called "Coming Soon." We believe the Lord is coming soon. We donât know what day or what hour, but we can read the sign of the times. The lord Jesus Christ said, you can look at the signs. When itâs red in the morning, itâs going to be a bad day. When itâs red at night, itâs going to be a good day.
We discern the signs of the times. When we see nations embracing homosexuality as an innocent alternative lifestyle, and we see nations embracing same-sex marriage as something as a viable alternative, and when we see half of all marriages ending in divorce, and in public schools, if your not sexually active, youâre bottom of the social ladder, and we see over a million babies every year being ripped out of their wombs, because women and men wanted to fornicate but they didnât have enough respect for the sanctity of life to let that baby be born. Iâm really glad that your parents and my parents didnât decide to abort, because we wouldnât even be having this conversation.