The first feature-length documentary to explore the hate-filled world of Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS. Since the mid-90s, this group has participated in nearly 25,000 anti-homosexual demonstrations around the world. With signs that say things like "God hates fags," "You're going to Hell," "Thank God for 9/11," "God hates your tears," "Thank God for dead soldiers," the small congregation of 75 members has garnered international attention, especially now that they have targeted military funerals as a venue for their picketing. 'Fall From Grace' features interviews with Rev. Phelps, other members of the church, many of its dissenters, and two members that left the church and their family behind. Written by
Even though the Westboro Baptist Church is such a disgraceful, ugly, and inhumane group of hatemongers, the documentary Fall From Grace needed to be made. It touches on a sensitive topic, like many documentaries about politics or religion, but its filmmaker, University of Kansas student K. Ryan Jones, refuses to share his political side and conducts this documentary in a mature and non-biased manner. A respectable, rare occurrence in self-made films.
The Westboro Baptist Church is a church located in Topeka, Kansas that has been spreading the "true" words of God for over fifty years. They have protested soldier's funerals, held assemblies in public, and have went as far as creating numerous websites with hateful names. The Pastor of the church is Fred Phelps, an eighty-one year old man who is filled with so much rage and hate he'll probably make your grandfather look like he follows the way of grace.
Phelps is hate-filled and unapologetic as he arranges his church, mostly members of his immediate family, to protest certain homosexual events and funerals. They proudly hoist signs saying "God Hates You," "God Hates Fags," and even going as far as saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." His messages are clear, but his ways are atrocious. Unlike most churches, he looks to hatred from peers as a measure of accomplishment.
As claimed by one of his sons named Timothy Phelps, the church's goal is to "Put the cup of God's fury to the lips of this nation and make them drink." Because of their messages and their ways the town of Topeka is called "scum," and an interview with Mayor Bill Bunten says that he gets numerous calls and emails every day claiming they do something about the church.
Why haven't we done anything to the church? Because we'd be hypocrites. The first amendment gives American citizens the right to freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly. While their views are unpopular and radical, they are truly in their guidelines as far as respecting the amendment goes. Is it morally right to do such an act? That's a personal opinion.
Clips of Pastor Phelps play frequently during the film. There he is in his brown-walled church, shouting at the top of his lungs in front of about a dozen people while his chilling voice echoes throughout the room. He tells us how homosexuals are "beasts" and are "willingly ignorant" towards the country. He states the homosexuals and the homosexual-enablers will be dismissed into hell after their life is complete. It's as bigoted and as hateful as it gets.
Phelps claims the church is a branch off of Christianity, when really, it is the furthest thing from it. Christianity was founded on forgiveness, love, compassion, honor, and loyalty. Phelps' church, I don't know what else to call it, was founded on bigotry, impulse, hatred, cruelty, and arrogance. They have zero respect for people who are just as human as they are.
Many protests are shown, and while anger from it all emerges inside of us, we get a look at the children. Let's call them the victims. The victims are brought up on a biased view on the world, and their parents prevent them from seeking out other beliefs and learning about others ways of life. They can see that other people disapprove of what they are doing, but those children don't know what those people are thinking. But what they personally were brought up on.
When Jones interviews some of the Phelps' children, he asked one who they specifically preach their messages to. The boy states "We preach to fags that the lord will kill them if they don't abide by The Ten Commandments." Another child says "When people mock us I'm mad enough to kill them, but I'll leave that to God." If any other child said such words at that age they'd be severely punished. If a Phelps child says that they are rewarded.
More interviews are conducted with Phelps' attorney and many children of the Pastor. Out of the thirteen children Phelps and his wife had, four left the family and are completely distant from the church. Two of the children, Dortha and Nate Phelps, are given over-the-phone interviews during the documentary. Nate claims that his father has the equal immaturity of a fourth grader, and that if any of his brothers or sisters ever questioned his ways of teaching they were whipped with a mattock handle. Sometimes, even if their father was just angry he would take violence out on the children.
Fall From Grace is a documentary that is seriously disturbing, and it comes with a eerie, unidentified presence. Maybe it's just because of the subject matter, or the fact this was in the hands of first time filmmaker, still in school. At only seventy-one minutes, it just scratches the large surface of such a checkered family and their beliefs. Despite this documentary being very informative, a mainstream documentary needs to be considered and made as soon as possible. The fact that people still are unaware of the Westboro Church and their ways demands a wake up call. And not a pleasant one.
This documentary will anger, frustrate, infuriate, and sadden any patriot or someone who just has respect for America and its well-being. Everyone's reaction will be different, but everyone will be informed and educated on such a movement that threatens the very limits of our first amendment.
Starring: The Phelps Family. Directed by: K. Ryan Jones.
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