Whenever the Westboro Baptist Church has been discussed in my high school classes, I have found them – as do many people – mystifying, hypocritical, and perplexing. Everything about them was bewildering to me: their pickets at the funerals of deceased soldiers, their picket at the funerals of the children and teachers killed by Adam Lanza in the horrific shooting that took place on December 14th 2012, their self proclaimed view that they are the only people currently living on earth that will be going to heaven when they die, and simply their claim to be what nearly 2.2 billion people in the world claim to be: Christians.
I could not imagine how people carrying signs that professed God’s hate for nearly the entire world could claim to be the only “true Christians” alive. I could not imagine how someone could thank God for atrocities like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown Connecticut shootings, and any of the other abysmal events that have occurred in the world. It all was confounding to me.
It was for this reason that I began researching in great detail who the Westboro Baptist Church was, what they believed, and why they did the things they did. I watched documentaries, read countless articles, and viewed many of the interviews with their members that had been conducted around the world. I still found that many of my questions remained unanswered. I wanted to get a better understanding of the way they thought and why conducted themselves in the manner they did.
All of this led to my decision to call them, email them, and request an interview with one of their members. I was hopeful that this interview would take place.
It was a week after I first emailed them that I sent out a second email confirming my interest in an interview.
A few hours later I got a reply: I would be interviewing Steve Drain of the Westboro Baptist Church. From my phone, I conducted the interview on January 8th, 2014.
Avonews: I understand you came to the Westboro Baptist Church as a documentary filmmaker intending to exploit the church. Can you describe what your life was like before joining? What sorts of activities and lifestyle did you partake in?
Steve Drain: Well, I was like you—a typical libertarian: an over-educated, mediocre, white boy. I had been working on a PHD in philosophy, and right near the end, after I had done all of my course work, I became a little disenchanted with that thing. I guess I was always searching for truth with a capital “T.” But I think I did kind of go in in a leaping off way that probably wasn’t very genuine. I was a typical, arrogant, know-it-all American.
As far as my life style was concerned, I was already married and had two children. I did a lot of music – I was in a band. I did a lot of film work. I really don’t know what else to say there besides I lived for myself. I was probably a very selfish person. And whatever tickled my fancy, I went after it.
Of course that changed. The Lord did something to my heart at some point, but I went out to the Westboro Baptist Church thinking that it was intriguing. This is way before all the media really hit that church. I started working on this thing back in 1999, and I just thought it would be an intriguing topic for a film. I didn’t quite know what I was gonna do with it, but I knew more than anything else that I just had to get up there, ask a lot of questions, and just let people talk.
Avonews: After the 2011 attack in Tucson, Arizona where Jared Lee Loughner opened fire, shooting Gabrielle Giffords along with 18 others, six of whom were killed, your pastor Fred Phelps said “Thank God for the violent shooter, one of your soldier heroes in Tucson. God appointed the Afghanistan veteran to avenge himself on this evil nation.” Do you believe that because God appoints people like Jared Lee Loughner to commit acts of violence and murder that those people will go to heaven? If so, why?
Steve Drain: No, not at all. Just because the Lord uses someone as an instrument of his wrath to people who disobey his word and who base all of their laws and policies contrary to the word of God doesn’t mean that there is any holiness of righteous in them. Anybody who the Lord casts his favor upon and shows them his grace [is] based on the righteousness of Christ. Not anything that any man does.
Look, if we believe that the Lord Jesus created the universe and everything in it but also controls the hearts of men… The Lord can make a king lean on his grace, or he can harden a king’s heart against his grace. That’s got nothing to do with that person, so what I’m saying is: every world leader – you’re talking about [people from] Hitler to Obama – and the 9/11 bombers and the person up there in Connecticut…
Avonews: Yeah, the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza.
Steve Drain: Yeah, yeah, yeah, all those people are used as instruments of God’s wrath. It has nothing to do with them earning favor with God.
The Muslims got it all screwed up. They teach their mercenaries, and [martyrs] that somehow they can earn favor with Allah if they do this thing. There’s nothing to that at all. They Lord says, “I make Goliath, and I kill and I wound…” in other words the Lord has absolute power and control over every person.
Avonews: You said that to go in the right direction America would have to stop AIDS research and apply the death penalty for homosexuality. Why AIDS?
Steve Drain: I know that heterosexual people can contract HIV as well. All I’m telling you is we know, and the CDC in Atlanta, they know how that disease spreads. It spreads primarily by homosexual intercourse, and homosexual intercourse translating over back into heterosexual intercourse. When somebody has a wife or something like that and they go out and f*g around. And also… drug use. There were some spread by blood transfusion also, but there’s no body who can get me to believe that the spread of that disease would have been as much of a pandemic as it was if it wasn’t carried on the back of homosexual activity and… drug use.
Avonews: But you recognize that… if someone participates in homosexual intercourse, and they have had an affair with a man in a homosexual way, and then they go and have intercourse with their wife they are giving their wife that disease, but the wife has done nothing [wrong].
Steve Drain: But it’s the same thing, dude… Bottom line is that guy went and had homosexual sex when he should have been with his wife.
Avonews: Exactly, I’m not disagreeing with you on that. I’m saying that you [said] “If a man f**s around while he’s married…” Wouldn’t the wife who got the disease from her husband have done nothing wrong? She has not had an affair, she has not slept around with anybody.
Steve Drain: That doesn’t do anything to my statement. My statement was as a policy, the US government, or any government that says they fear God… a nation that forgets god means that they base their policies upon something other than scriptural law. So, bottom line is: stopping AIDS research means: look, don’t be pouring your resources into that when you know damn good and well what started it and what turned that issue into a pandemic. And you men out there, when you go out and f*g around and give your wife AIDS, that’s a curse. That’s a curse from God.
Avonews: I know you don’t agree with the term “accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” but –
Steve Drain: You can’t…
Avonews: But when they use that terminology they are saying, “I accept him into my life as a way to make a change.” When you do that, you can’t “live like hell” (as WBC believes is the case with people who “accept Jesus as their savior”) because when you do that it will naturally change your life, and you will be changed by it if you truly do that.
Steve Drain: If that truly happens, I agree with you, but the vast majority of people who say that that’s happened to them – it hasn’t happened to them. I can tell you right now that one of the first things that’s gonna appear in your mind when you take that sobering vow is that you’re not gonna want to do what the lord says not to do anymore… What’s happened in America is the churches are littered with these pastors who take the Lord Jesus Christ who does very, very good, hard, blistering preaching, and they turn him into hippie Jesus.
Avonews: I do agree with you that there are some people out there that go to church, call themselves Christians, and the first thing they do when they get out of church is they get mad at somebody for something stupid.
Steve Drain: Or, or, the first thing that they do is hop on a plane [for a mission trip] to go to another country, and lie about God and say “God loves you no matter what.”
… Go to your pastor and ask him “does God love everybody?” and if he answers yes, then you are supposed to run from him as quickly as you can, you know why? Because the bible says to do it.
Avonews: Your oldest daughter Lauren Drain left Westboro in 2008, and I saw a documentary where you said that she called you later on saying that you were right about everything. Am I correct?
Steve Drain: It was my birthday the year after she left yes.
Why then would she write the book – I’m sure you’ve heard of it – “Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church” if she was ashamed for her sin?
Steve Drain: There’s nothing new under the sun. Bottom line is, she did not want to live her life the way we live our lives, and what you gotta do if you’re a certain kind of a person, is you gotta save some face. And she had to save some face so she wrote a book. She lied about her parents, she lied about the church, and that was just so she could have self-righteousness. She wants to grab a hold of some notion that she is validated for what she did.
Avonews: But why would she call you back if she had such a burning passion against the church?
Steve Drain: All I’m telling you is, she made that phone call to me a couple of years before that book came out.
Avonews: I know. You said it was a year after she left, so that would have been about 2009.
Steve Drain: Right. All I’m saying to you is, people’s ideas change, Andrew. I can’t account for that. All I can tell you is that the facts on the ground were: number one she made that phone call, and she said those things to me. And then a couple of years after that she came out with a book that is saying, you know, whatever it was.
Avonews: What was the extent of the phone call?
Steve Drain: She was very tearful, and I think what had happened is, quite frankly if I had to try and put two and two together… she left for a guy, and then I don’t think things worked out with the guy. I think the guy was a phony Christian, and they probably had some kind of a big breakup of something like that. And she was probably very tearful and regretful about that. There’s one thing to make a statement, and there is another to [make that commitment to come back].