The Topeka Capital-Journal reports…
“The marquee outside Westboro Baptist Church on Wednesday read “Fag Marriage Dooms Nations.”
Across S.W. Orleans Street, on the front lawn of the Equality House, a former church member and grandson of its founder held up a sign with a different message: “Love Never Fails.”
Zach Phelps-Roper, 23, found his way to Topeka from his current temporary home in a small town in Missouri, where he is staying with a friend and fellow anti-WBC group member.
Hours before, he and another member of The United Bikers For Unjust Causes And Tragedies held signs and yelled from S.W. 12th and Topeka Boulevard — just down the street from the WBC complex he called home for more than 20 years.
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” Phelps-Roper said, with a chuckle, his smile audible through the telephone.
A short video he posted Wednesday morning shows him screaming “Say no to Westboro. We love you, Topeka. Good morning.”
When asked what it was like to be on the other side of that picket line, Zach Phelps-Roper said, “it feels pretty damn good.”
“This is what I think is the right thing to do, the kind thing, the compassionate thing,” he said.
Wednesday was Phelps-Roper’s second foray into counterprotesting his family. The first came Tuesday evening in Kansas City at the Ben Folds Five concert. That night, his sign read: “Trust Your Heart.”
Phelps-Roper said he was screaming at his family members, including his father, Brent Roper, and mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper. He was telling them he missed them and loved them.
“I could tell they were trying very hard to ignore more,” he said. “I had a booming voice.”
Shirley Phelps-Roper said she thinks she saw her son Tuesday, but wasn’t sure — when she pickets, she said, she is focused on keeping the signs up against the wind and on her singing.
When she heard of her son’s sign from that night, she offered this statement: “The Lord God says the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked and who can know it. I say, (trusting your heart) is a bad plan. He’s acting against his own interests.”
Zach Phelps-Roper left his former life Feb. 20, after irreconcilable differences with the WBC faith in which he was brought up.
Since then, he has been in touch with siblings, cousins and friends with whom he was formerly banned from speaking. He has found a new message — empathy and unconditional love as the only way to fix the problems of this world — and has set about trying to do just that.
Phelps-Roper said he wasn’t sure what was going to be next for him, describing himself as a drifter, who “takes things as they come.” He believes he is on a mission from God to “spread unconditional love to the world.”
He has been active with that message on social media, Twitter, Vine and Facebook. And people seem to be responding.
One such person was Phil Worland, president of the biker group, who reached out to Phelps-Roper on Facebook about two weeks ago. Phelps-Roper said he latched onto the group right way, particularly its stance against WBC. He said Worland helped him realize how painful his former church’s anti-gay message is and how it “provokes suicide.”
A Facebook post states the group’s mission as “We intend to fight our enemys [sic] (such as Westboro Baptist church) on their levels using any legal means possible whether it be in our back yard or there [sic] back yard. We also intend to take on other unjust causes and tragedies at our discretion.”
On May 8, someone posted a link to the biker’s Facebook page of a Huffington Post summary of The Topeka Capital-Journal’s feature story about Phelps-Roper, writing, “Yay that’s one less person for United Bikers For Unjust Causes & Tragedies to worry about.”
Bri Napoles, a 20-year-old member, said she trusted Phelps-Roper was the real deal the first time she met him.
“He loves everybody, it doesn’t matter what color you are or what you look like,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
On June 1, Phelps-Roper was appointed board chairman of The United Bikers For Unjust Causes And Tragedies. He has been staying with Worland for the past eight days.
Napoles and Phelps-Roper decided to swing by Topeka on Wednesday before heading back to Missouri. The two, along with another three people from the biker group, had been to Kansas City the night before, counterprotesting the WBC in front of the Ben Folds Five concert.
Phelps-Roper posted multiple calls for signs and people to counterprotest at the concert, calling upon his years of making picket signs to help out counterprotesters.
From June 7: “We’re looking for messages *similar* to WBC’s in that we need short phrases; for example, ‘God Loves You’ is a total winner.”
And June 8: “Let us overcome hatred with love, and show Westboro what loving our neighbor really looks like!”
Phelps-Roper said he wanted to come back and protest in Topeka to “meet on Westboro’s own turf” and try to encourage Topekans to adopt the message of love for them.
If the whole nation can love them, he said, the church no longer will be able to use the verse from the Bible that says people will be hated for preaching God’s truth.
He and Napoles had plans Wednesday afternoon to hit Gage Park, where they would walk around and engage people in their message of love.
“Our message today is say no to Westboro. All you need is love. We love you, Topeka, and we hope you have a good day,” Phelps-Roper said. “And finally, that God loves you.”