It began in 1991. A local independent Baptist Church in Kansas began picketing at a nearby park popular with gay men. Citing Romans 1:32, the protestors paraded handmade signs proclaiming that gays deserve death.
The church’s pastor, Fred Phelps, had taught his small flock that loving one’s neighbour meant warning them of judgement to come. “We always equated love with rebuke. As long as we believed our words to be truthful, we were free to rebuke the rest of the world at any time, in any place, and in any way we wanted.” Before long, protests expanded to include demonstrations at the funerals of gay people, military veterans, and disaster victims. The church believed that these deaths were divine punishment for a nation with corrupt values. They alone knew the truth and were God’s vehicles for warning the nation of coming destruction.