Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fall from Grace (2007)

     Undeniable force-of-hate-in-the-name-of-Righteousness  Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are the focus of Fall from Grace (2007).  We learn much about Phelps, the man, in this movie.  We learn that he graduated high school at sixteen ("top of [his] class") and that he had a religious experience while awaiting to be old enough to enroll in college.  We learn that he was also a lawyer (in perhaps the most succinct summation of Phelps, Pedro Irigonegaray -- who also appears in Flock of Dodos -- describes him as "being disbarred for being an unethical human being") at some point prior to his crusade against homosexuality.
     I will express my ignorance of something right here.  I have never seen nor known to exist advertisements enticing people to attend certain churches.  I am not saying they do not exist still today, nor do I know if they were or are commonplace.  What I do know is that much of Phelps ad for the opening of his church scares me.  His attributes are listed in bullet points: Independent, Fundamental, Premillennial.  In addition to (?) his sermons, revival services will be held.  All of that is perfectly coded to get the right kind of people to attend his church and fall in line with his brand of viciousness (Phelps is also not the only Premillennialist, though that is hardly shocking).  I do not know when the ad showed in the film ran; it should be 1957 or thereabouts. The ad appears very early in the film and quite properly sets the tone for what to expect from the Phelps family.  It is unclear as to whether it ever attracted any worshipers to his services.
Rev. Phelps
     For example, Rev. Phelps, his son (Jonathan), and granddaughter have no problem labeling homosexuals as "fags", to remind everybody that "GOD HATES FAGS" (written on a protest sign, also said aloud by Rev. Phelps as he is describing his mission), and to cite Luke 16:23 as evidence that "FAGS BURN in HELL".  [By the way, the KJV translation for 16:23 is "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."  Never mind that the context there is about the rich failing to attend to the poor.]  Rev. Phelps proudly points the audience to his website, (though he and his group have others).  This is the God of Light, the God of Love, the God of Abraham...and Phelps is here to tell you that He hates fags!  Phelps seems to have enough hate for everyone -- veterans, people who live in Indiana, even President George W. Bush (who is termed a "mongrel" on the website).  Phelps' concept of God hates America, but to be fair, He also hates Sweden.  What Phelps' God does love, however, are IEDs.  These are good because they kill American soldiers and, in the mind of Phelps, soldiers = fags.
David Trosch
     Phelps is not alone in his ignorant hatred.  Though it appears that his protestors are just members of his family (his congregation is just his family) -- having thirteen children (nine who haven't escaped) has its benefits -- the film gladly points to other Men of God who have likewise spoken or preached against humanity.  These include homophobe and advocate of murdering doctors who perform abortions David Trosch (formerly Father Trosch), Rev. Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.
     There is little more disturbing than the interviews with the children -- intercut with Jonathan Phelps calling all children outside his family "ratty-ass" or "nimrod[s]" and noting that their Christianity doesn't have Halloween (understandable), Christmas (somewhat understandable), or Easter (seems to be an important holiday in regular Christianity) -- talking about their favorite signs (such as "God Hates Fags") and the fun of protesting being serving the Lord out in the street.  These children have no chance to escape this hate.  Hearing a child under ten say that "God hates America because they are evil beasts" should be a cause for alarm.
Phelps sure has a long list of who God Hates
     We learn from two of the four children who have left the flock that Rev. Phelps is a violent, emotionally unstable man.  He (reportedly) beat his children with a barber strop and a mattock handle.  His goal as father, we are told, was the threaten and beat his family into total submission.  None of this seems out of place with the Rev. Phelps seen on screen.  He absolutely appears to be a cult leader, but one who has only ensnared his own offspring. 
     Pastor Jeff Gannon describes Phelps' version of Christianity best when he calls it "religiosity".  Phelps is only filled with hate for everything and is waiting for God to attack his perceived enemies).  The family believes that soldiers being killed by IEDs are suffering Holy retribution for a pipe bomb being set off at their church a decade before that.  The Phelps family wants to let you know that you are as worthless as their father has made them feel to be before the eyes of God.  One of the most telling clips in the movie is Julie Banderas of FOX News just absolutely losing it when trying to talk to Shirley Phelps-Roper (full FOX News segment attached below).
     This is not a fun movie to watch.  Its subjects are not nice, likable, nor do they seem redeemable.  It is telling of how much hate one can carry in one's heart, how that hate can be inflicted upon a family and caused to spread.  I would recommend it to anyone who can tolerate the hate of the Phelps family just to witness the calm reason (not in Ms. Banderas' case) that many who have had to suffer them for years can still bring to bear regarding turning the other cheek to such hatred.

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