Their children hold signs that read, “God hates fags.”
I was a child when their family, the extremist group called Westboro Baptist church, began picketing in Kansas in 1991. Driven by patriarch Fred Phelps’s homophobic interpretation of the Bible, they quickly became infamous for wielding shocking slogans and shouting lurid insults in public spaces.
It would be easy to write them off as monsters – a familiar impulse in today’s political climate, particularly toward supporters of Donald Trump. But, with democracy itself on the line this election year, we must remain open to the possibility of transformation.
I saw Westboro for the first time in the late 90s at the University of Kansas. I was a first-generation college student who had inherited no family political tradition. We were working in wheat fields when better-off families were attending civic events or reading opinion pages. In that void, I had absorbed a vague, moderate conservatism from the prevailing culture of my…