Twelve years ago, Steve Drain traveled from Florida to Topeka, Kan., to make a documentary about the controversial Westboro Baptist Church. The self-described former "long-haired Libertarian grad student" witnessed a change in himself and left that assignment, which was meant to "poke and prod" at the church, with plans to move his family to Topeka and join Westboro Baptist in its mission to preach the scriptures. Widely regarded as hatemongers (ironically, the name of Drain's documentary) who hold provocative signs outside funerals of soldiers killed in battle, church members, including Drain, say their message is actually one of love.
Drain's life would evolve into a subject of public scrutiny, especially after his daughter, Lauren Drain, published a book, "Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church," which details her experience with the church before she was ejected as a young adult. [embedgallery id=143356]
Still, Steve Drain clings tightly to the fundamental Christian mission of Westboro Baptist, which he claims is to warn people against their sinful lifestyles before it is too late. He is charismatic, confident and has an explanation for every controversial move the church makes.
Before the interview begins, Drain chats about his other daughter, who is about to graduate from college, and his plans to take her to New York City to experience a Broadway show. During the interview, he casually uses the word "fag" and sarcastically mocks the church's critics who show up at their pickets. From his home in Topeka, he gives Metro a glimpse into the minds of the people who are written off as cult members by most of the nation. Aside from their religious views, Drain said, Westboro Baptist Church members are pretty likable people.
You had made some mentions on Twitter of the Boston bombings. Did you plan to travel there to picket the funerals of bombing victims, including Krystle Campbell? There doesn't seem to be any evidence that you actually showed up.
These days, so many things happen, we just can't get to it all. When someone will say, 'You said you were coming and you didn’t – you’re a liar, or dishonest,' what I have to say is, we have conducted more than 50,000 pickets over the last 22 years. We have been at a great majority of bigger happenstances in the U.S., including the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, the Grammy awards. We get to everything we possibly can. When we can’t get to a thing, it doesn’t really matter – the preaching still happens. There were hundreds of stories about us going to picket the memorial services in Boston and almost every one of those stories would say something like 'WBC believes God was punishing America for homosexuality.' As soon as they say that, as soon as they publish our core message, it's like we have already picketed.
We are not there to bring any emotional distress. From the Bible's perspective, we care way more about those people than their supposed friends and neighbors do. There is nothing better that a man or woman can do than tell the truth to somebody else. We aren’t trying to go there to get attention or to inflict emotional distress. We are trying to go there to say, 'Stop your sins, you are angering the Lord.'
What were your thoughts when you saw 500 people respond to a call from the Local Teamsters to shield the grieving family from your church?
I'm not surprised. People don’t really hate us. Outside of what we believe, we are pretty likable people. If it weren’t for the fact that we believe a hardcore, fundamental translation of the Bible, people would like us. We are hardworking, honest, fair, funny. The Lord Jesus Christ said, 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, for my sake.' The irony is that they didn’t stop any preaching. It was such an ineffective locking of arms, they would have done better by not locking arms. As soon as they locked arms, the word of God was preached even more. I don’t care if Jimmy Hoffa rose from the grave. He wasn’t going to stop the preaching of the servants of God at Westboro Baptist Church.
The Westboro Baptist Church is on record as saying God sent the Boston bombers. Are you essentially saying that act of crime was God’s will – and that you agree with God’s will?
What we are saying is this: Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Was God on vacation during that day? Was God taking a little nap? If God wanted those people to stay alive, would they not be alive? What people want to do who call themselves Christians is say they believe in God, but flip the light switch on and off whenever it serves their fancy. Kind of like how Reggie White wants to thank God when he wins the Super Bowl, but not when he loses the Super Bowl. The bottom line is this: If God can bless the nation, he can curse the nation. When people are running down the streets of Boston and get blown up, that was a curse of God. If God hadn’t wanted those people to get blown up, they wouldn’t have gotten blown up. We’re not trying to be arrogant about it, but those things happen according to God’s will. God uses unrighteous people to punish other unrighteous people.
Do you remember your first picket at a funeral?
I remember my first soldier funeral picket. Actually, during the time that we started doing that around 2007, I went to a whole bunch of those in the first six months. I remember how they all went. Basically, the impression that I had was that these soldier funerals were being turned into kind of patriotic pep rallies, that there wasn’t some soulful mourning. And the bottom line is, when the scripture talks about mourning, it’s talking about a specific kind of mourning – it’s not mourning for the dead. It’s mourning for your sins.
Dying time is truth time. There is only a few times in a person's life when they are going to give some serious consideration to the weighty matters of eternity, to heaven and hell, right and wrong, and morality. The preaching we do at funerals is for the living, not the dead. We’re not trying to rub anyone’s nose in it. What we are saying is, 'Look, until you hit the grave, there is hope for you. But if you go to the grave as an unrepentant sinner, you’re done.' Quite frankly, if you fight for this nation, then you are not fighting for our right to talk. You are fighting for a nation that is awash in sin.
Did you at any point ever feel ashamed or embarrassed by what you were doing at one of those funerals, even when you saw the families of those who had died?
Not only do I not feel ashamed – and I’m not being proud or haughty or arrogant about it – but I literally feel bad for the people who are there who do not feel ashamed. In other words, the scripture says, 'Were they ashamed when they committed abominations? Nay, they were not ashamed, neither could they blush.' That means they don’t even consider some of these things sin anymore, so there’s no blushing involved. And that’s what really makes me cringe – that the kind of things the Lord has pronounced to be sin, we, in our cocky arrogant state, said that culture has moved on and these things are no longer considered to be sins. It makes me ashamed for my country.
Usually the media doesn’t really buy our answer because they think, ‘You gotta be ashamed.' No, you gotta be ashamed. It’s my contention and the church’s contention that in the mainstream media, if you wrote an article that said something like, 'You know, I really wonder if being a homosexual is the right thing to do,' your career is over. You can castigate us all day long and you will win awards, but if you castigate the fags, you’re toast. There is a bias in the media that is absolutely pervasive. Behind every decision, there is a very clever, well-educated, marketing-savvy fag that is going to ruin your career if you call into question their lifestyle.
But at the same time, you really use the media, don’t you? You mention that you didn’t even have to be at the funeral because the media will preach your message for you.
That’s not being hypocritical – that’s being aware. We have a website that says godhatesthemedia.com. Just because the media is used to preach the word of God, doesn’t mean the intentions of the media are pure or noble.
You are quite famous for your outspoken protests and signs against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Is that your biggest concern, more so than sins like murder?
We didn’t make that a front-burner issue. You did. The media and America made it the front-burner issue. On the day there is a murderer pride parade, I’ll be out there preaching against murder. But everyone knows that murder is wrong, and murderers generally murder in quiet and don’t brag about it, and stand out in the middle of the street, murdering people and saying, 'You better applaud and let us do it and legislate for it.' God said a long time ago, 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as womankind.' If you aren’t supposed to lie with a man, when you are a man, how the hell are you gonna marry him?
So many people have a negative opinion of the way you spread the word of God, and would describe it more as hate speech. Do you ever stop and wonder whether your approach is actually doing more harm than good?
Could we get get more flies with honey than vinegar? If we were trying to catch flies, I’d be concerned about that. What I’m not going to do is soft pedal or water down or euphemize the word of God. This is what the Bible says. Anyone who says we are overstating the case or misinterpreting the Bible, is abysmally Bible illiterate. When people see the word 'hate' – when we say, 'God hates fags' – they think they understand what that means. I'm not allowed to hate you. I don’t hate anybody. I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself. But absolutely God hates.
Is there a different standard for picketing the funerals of your own church members?
I don’t think it’s a matter of a different standard for our members. There are lot of peoples' funerals that we don’t picket, even high-profile people. If some famous person dies, and they are going to have a private funeral, we stay away. I can tell you right now that if someone lives their life in callous defiance against God and they are lifted up as someone other than who they really are from a moral perspective, and when they die, they are gonna make a big public deal of their funeral, we are going to be there.
How do you feel about members who eventually leave your church?
I feel sorrow for them. Unlike people who are not privy to a whole lot of truth, they have got a great deal of truth saturated into their souls, so I feel sorrow for them. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a volunteer outfit. I don’t want anyone to feel like they need to be here if that’s not what they want in their life. If the Lord doesn’t put an impulse on their heart to serve him, and fear him, and love him, there is no faking it. The scripture says, 'They have gone out from us, because they are not of us.' If they were of us, they no doubt would have continued with us.
People think you have a very negative opinion of the United States for being morally bankrupt and passing same-sex marriage laws that you disagree with. Why do you remain in the United States? Are there any countries that you would consider to have exemplary cultures or governments?
Just because we think America is doing it wrong, we’re not looking for a place to live that’s doing it right. We’re not looking for a vacation paradise. Just like Jonah was sent to Nineveh to warn those people they had 40 days and then they shall be overthrown, we were sent to this nation to preach. We know if a nation doesn’t form its policies in concert with God, that nation is doomed. If God says no homosexuality, and you are fine with homosexuality, you are toast. If God says no divorce and no remarriage, and you are fine with divorce and remarriage, you are toast.
Are any of your members divorced?
What's your opinion of that?
When someone runs off and leaves you, there is nothing you can do about that. We don’t have any members who are divorced and remarried. We have someone whose spouse just took off and left him. Nothing you can do about that.
How are you received in your town? What is an average day in the life of Westboro Baptist Church member?
We do stuff like grocery shopping and hugging our kids. Yesterday, I went into the backyard and played some football, and ate some roast beef, and read the Bible and watched some TV. In Topeka, people are kind of used to us. We have been preaching for 22 years. Some people might give us a jaundiced gaze, but everyone in Topeka knows that outside of what we believe, we are nice and friendly and we are harder workers at our job. We are honest. We are fair.
Some of my colleagues through the years get put in a difficult position, because if they decide they like me before they know where I go to church, then they feel like they are forced to not like me because there is a social stigma attached with liking someone who has these extreme views. There are people in our city and elsewhere who think we have the right to believe what we want to believe and respect our right to believe it. I don’t believe that everyone wants to cave in our heads with a baseball bat — that usually happens when we go to another town. Because those people aren’t used to us, so they’re going to teach us lesson. They’re so loving and kind…
Do you believe there is a cure for homosexuality?
There is only one cure, so to speak — the Lord puts it in your heart to convince you of that sin and you want to stop it. The fags want to demand you are born this way and there is nothing you can do about it. Whether it is something you pick up socially or genetically, as a Bible preacher, I don’t care — you have to stop. Homosexuality is a category that is defined by activity, by something you do. If you are no longer a homosexual from a standpoint that you are not acting on it, you are no longer a fag.
Let's do some word association. I'm going to give you a word, and you tell me the first word that comes to mind.
Premarital sex: Fornication
President Obama: Rebel
Osama bin Laden: Rebel
Beauty pageant: Vanity
Civil rights: Immutability
The Pope: Pedophile
Right to bear arms: Brutish
Tim Tebow: Phony as $3 bill
Follow Cassandra Garrison on Twitter: @CassieAtMetro