I was sick to my stomach as I sat watching the documentary Cult Kids: Westboro. It was upsetting to see members of the Westboro Baptist Church hurl such hatred on others. Although the Bible describes homosexuality as a grave sin, Proverbs 6 also addresses other abominations. This fringe church has distorted the biblical message. They condemn individuals to damnation with their words, but they provide no possibility of atonement. People find it fascinating to study the activities of church members, even when they are unattractive. Individuals may be anticipating that these individuals are not as harsh as they seem to be. The WBC covers a variety of sociological topics. This paper will discuss WBC’s culture, including why they do what they do, how children are socialized as they grow up in the church, and how they socialize with one another as they perceive the world and themselves.
The Culture of WBC
The values of the believers of the WBC church are founded on their interpretation of the Bible. Beliefs are “particular concepts held by a group” (Macionis, 2015, p. 56). Values, according to Macionis (2015), are standards that individuals employ to judge what is desirable and acceptable (p. 56). Their viewpoints are limited and exclusive. The most important idea they hold is that God despises homosexuals and sexual transgressions (VICE Media LLC, 2012). They think that all negative things happen because individuals have sinned. Everything they do is motivated by the notion that God despises homosexuals (VICE Media LLC, 2012).
Other Christians may feel cultural shock when they witness their deeply held beliefs and ideals being twisted in such a radical way. Culture shock is defined as being disoriented when confronted with a new way of life (Macionis, 2015, p. 50). For example, most Christians believe that though God despises wickedness, he does not despise the sinner. Furthermore, their vocabulary and how they express themselves are objectionable to society. Therefore, Christians attempt to avoid using terms that are offensive to others.
The Westboro Baptist Cathedral is an example of a counterculture due to its rejection of societal norms such as value for the useless and approval from others, particularly LGBT people, Jews, other Christians, and Atheists. A counterculture is a subculture that disregards the larger society’s key beliefs, norms, and tactics, replacing them with a new set of ethical habits. Their intense hatred for minorities, Jews, and others who do not share their ideas, as well as their exceedingly active use of advertising to push their vile agenda, demonstrate that they are revolting once more.
WBC engages in ethnocentric conduct by producing anti-Jewish cultural films and picketing Jewish synagogues. The members of the WBC claim that they are doing these crimes because Jews killed Jesus. This one fact, it appears, justifies their berating and mocking of another culture or religion. Ethnocentrism is defined as the belief that one’s own culture or group is better than another culture or group. Therefore it is easy to see why the Westboro Baptist Church is considered a counterculture. The Westboro Baptist Church rejects this value in diversity, believing that other communities are intrinsically inferior as established by God. These inferior groups ought to perish and burn in hell. Their contempt for the military, as well as the habit of holding funerals, proves their point. Their hate for the military and even the practice of funerals only serves to establish that they are a counterculture; by picketing soldiers’ funerals, the organization is defying key cultural ideas and mores of modern culture.
Agents of Socialization
Agents of socialization are the entities that have the biggest impact on a person. WBC’s ministry remains one of the most powerful socialization agents for WBC’s youngsters. Outside of ministry, the kids are not permitted to have friends, while the youths are not permitted to have lovers. Children are, nevertheless, allowed to attend public school, but they are taught that the people there are terrible and wicked. The kids are taught that they are “walking picket signs” and that being despised by others is good. Children are brought to the picket lines early, and they are forced to watch movies that promote hatred and denigrate others. They are preached to and indoctrinated in these extreme ideas by the ministry.
These are persons who have a big influence on a person’s socialization. Significant others serve as role models for the children’s views and conduct. Kids learn how to function in society by observing prominent individuals. Families teach their children to speak wickedly, and the youngsters than do the same to others. The looking-glass self is a self-image based on how we imagine others view us. Thus, children place a high value on their significant others since they learn from them, and the looking-glass self wants to please the parents.
This can be defined as perceiving ourselves as members of society and seeing life through their perspectives. Members of the WBC are opposed to generalized order. Margaret Phelps, one of the members, declared that anybody who does not believe as they do is crazy or mentally sick (VICE Media LLC, 2012). WBC has an “us vs the rest of the world” mindset. They don’t grasp the perspective of a mourning father whose kid was killed in battle or the perspective of a divorced individual.
In this case, individuals separate from society, and the institution they are a member of controls what they do, believe and say. WBC is a whole organization. They pray as one and picket together, and they live together. Few outsiders come to live among them since it would compel them to abandon everyone who does not share their beliefs. WBC’s isolationist ideas were explained by Steve Drain, a non-family member, who stated, “Everyone gravitates to those with common interests” (VICE Media LLC, 2012). Steve Drain and his family ceased celebrating holidays, partaking in typical teen activities, and the girls were unable to cut their hair after joining the ministry (VICE Media LLC, 2012)
The WBC’s master position appears to be hate speech directed towards homosexuals, sexual immorality, divorce, Jews, Catholics, and anybody else who does not share their beliefs. The essential social status in identifying a person is their master status. They are compelled to treat others in a harsh and unloving manner due to the hate speech. I witnessed very few loving behaviors toward those beyond their area in this documentary. They have no sympathy or empathy for others who are different from them.
This frequently occurs when people are torn in several ways due to their various roles in life. WBC parents feel they are parenting their children in the most biblically sound manner imaginable. Children are sometimes hurt when someone throws something at them. Parents are expected to safeguard their children and not to put them in danger.
Socially Constructed Reality
This relates to how humans use social behavior to shape reality. WBC members consider themselves to be exceptionally generous and caring individuals. They claim to be compassionate and caring by informing people about their sin and God’s vengeance upon America. The members take scripture truth and twist it into something else. Hate rhetoric has devolved into hateful behavior. They isolate and reject anyone who does not share their beliefs. When someone disagrees with them, they label them a homosexual and shut off the questions, never allowing anybody to debate them genuinely.
It states that situations that are considered real have actual effects. As members spew hate, society yells hate back at them. They have been disliked as they have immersed themselves in the world of hatred. They have lost some of their children because they have forgotten what it is to be a parent. Their message has steered people away from God rather than drawing them to Him. They have lost love because they are fixated on the sensation of hatred. Over time, their ideas seemed to have evolved more and more radical.
Studying WBC’s sociological perspective has given me a better understanding of how outlandish they look to society. If I were born and reared in the Phelps family, I would look and act just like the children and teenagers depicted in the documentary. I despise and reject the Westboro Chapel’s tactics; I consider their activities incredibly insulting and empty of anything that God would favor, as the Bible emphasizes inclusion and loving sinners above spreading hatred. However, by taking a culturally related perspective of the group’s actions, they may be going too far to demonstrate that homosexuality is a sin. As someone who no longer identifies as Christian, I feel that individuals should be allowed to love who they need regardless of gender. Nonetheless¸, the Westboro Baptist Cathedral is significant to the world because it has a global impact and raises questions about free speech and how far it can be extended. I hope that in the not-too-distant future, the Westboro Baptist Cathedral does not come to represent the majority view of Americans because their hatred of others is repulsive.