Leaving Westboro

Credit: Harbor88 (Flickr)

Credit: Harbor88 (Flickr)

Libby Phelps Alvarez is a very brave woman. She made a tough decision that changed her life forever. Four years ago, Libby left the church started by her grandfather, Westboro Baptist Church.

I watched her interview on NBC’s Today Show yesterday.  “They think that they are the only ones that are going to heaven,” she said.  She was taught that if you don’t go to that church, you’re going to hell. Libby had protested military funerals around the country from when she was eight years old.  What’s really crazy is that this church believes that they are saving people with their views.

Libby had begun to question her church’s actions when her family protested the funeral of her friend’s husband who had died in service to his country.  It was about the same time that they had started to pray that people would die, though she hadn’t done it herself.

When asked if the church had brainwashed her, she described having been brainwashed to believe that she hadn’t been brainwashed.  The church leaders had recognized that they had taken away the opportunity for independent exploration for the truth about God and had done their best to cover it up from their church members.  These churchgoers aren’t living out their faith, but someone else’s.

Discussions about Westboro Baptist church are easy because everyone is in agreement.  People who don’t like church hate them.  Churchgoers have a problem with them as well.  But there is something about them that resonates with churchgoers on a much smaller scale.  Many of us don’t pursue truth about Jesus because we don’t digest it for ourselves, we allow the church to do it for us.  “Brainwashing” seems too strong of a word, but maybe not.

Are there questions about God that have been answered for you that you still have doubts about?  Do some more research.  Ask some more questions.  The answer may be different for you, and it doesn’t have to be heretical.  I’m not calling you to a religious rebellion, I’m challenging you to lay claim to your relationship with the Creator.

The church my wife and I started five years ago and the church we currently attend baptize and serve communion regularly.  We grew up attending a different denomination that does neither.  Does that mean I believe they aren’t Christians?  Absolutely not.  It does mean that if I had hung around that church I wouldn’t be living out a personal journey with Jesus Christ.

We say how awesome it is to have a God who is our personal Savior and yet we submit to institutional faith. We do it because it’s easier.  We do it because it’s less risky.  What a boring way to go about living life to the fullest extent! Debate it, pray about it, and then take responsibility for your own spiritual journey in tandem with the Holy Spirit.  If your church isn’t trying to brainwash you then they won’t see these questions as a threat.

My point isn’t to encourage you to leave your church because there is something about it that you don’t like. I’m encouraging you to take responsibility for your own faith.  Who knows, You may even find that you agree!  But, it’s okay to disagree about some of the minor aspects of faith with the person in the next pew or with someone at the church across town.

There is a danger in this process.  Many will use this as an excuse to make God in their own image. If this concern is keeping you from wrestling with your faith I have a suggestion: ask questions so that you can understand God, not so that you get what you want.  You just might discover the true meaning of having a personal Savior.


5 thoughts on “Leaving Westboro

  1. “We say how awesome it is to have a God who is our personal Savior and yet we submit to institutional faith. We do it because it’s easier. We do it because it’s less risky.” I couldn’t agree more, Dave. Too many people are stuck in ruts if religious monotony bc being a pilgrim risks nights in the wilderness and waves in our relationships. So everyone just sits in grandmas church hoping that that (not Trusting Jesus) will miraculously,effortlessly turn them from a toad into a prince if they just stay long enough. Gag. Safeness is for the birds!

  2. Dave,
    I’m fairly new to your blog, but have really enjoyed catching up on your posts. This time, you have so clearly stated what I have felt in my life so many times. Thanks for the guts to give us a good shove towards actively trusting our Savior instead of hoping the things we have been told are right. Like Lori said, safeness is for the birds (gotta love her summary of your post).

  3. So am I to understand that the people still hanging around “that church” are not “living out a personal journey with Christ”?

    • Which church? If Libby’s description is accurate, then it would be safe to say that at least a few there aren’t living out a personal journey with Christ. If you mean my former denomination, I’d have to say “yes” to some of them (But I’d have to consider that there may be a “yes” for some in our current church as well). If the major values of the church have honestly been grappled with, then the way a person goes about their spiritual journey towards Jesus is both personal and, as a side benefit, has integrity. I know many in my former denomination who have prayerfully their view on the sacraments and have stayed. Vanda and I have and have left. The point is about an understanding of and participation in your spiritual journey. Good distinction to make. Thanks, Gary.

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