Westboro Baptist Church

Summer 2022 trip to WBC

From June 23-27, Dr. Gray and a team of four research assistants will be returning to Topeka and the Westboro Baptist Church. Upcoming highlights of this trip include:

  • Interviews with Shirley Phelps-Roper; Kathy Griffin; Abbi Phelps; Brent Roper; Jonathan & Paulette Phelps; Sam & Jen Phelps-Roper; Tim Phelps; and Jonah Phelps-Roper
  • Observations of hymn sing-alongs, picketing, and a Sunday church service
  • Conversations with non-WBC Topeka community members, including a local rabbi and an attorney

Winter 2020 trip to WBC in Topeka, KS

On January 9-13, the project team scheduled meetings with local Topeka residents and a series of interviews and observations with the Westboro Baptist Church. Dr. Gray was joined by seven students (six undergraduates, and one alum).

  • WBC interviews with Tim Phelps; Sam and Jen Phelps-Roper; Margie Phelps; and Shirley, Brent, Noah, Jonah, and Gabe Phelps-Roper
  • Observations of hymn sing-alongs, picketing, and dinners (courtesy of the Drains and the Phelps-Ropers)
  • Conversations with non-WBC community members in Topeka, including religious leaders, LGBTQ activists, and a journalist

Summer 2019 trip to WBC

In August, five Miami University undergraduate research assistants visited Topeka and Westboro Baptist Church with Dr. Gray. (The team was joined by a recent college graduate, prior to his entering law school.)

  • August 2019: WBC interviews with Shirley Phelps-Roper; Jael Holroyd (8-16); Margie; Sam & Jen (with Isaac, et alia); Fred Jr.; Jonathan and Paulette; and Abigail Phelps (8-17); Charles, Rachel, and Hockenbarger family; Jacob Z. and Katherine (née Hockenbarger) Phelps (8-18). Conversation between the Miami team and younger generation Westboro Baptists; with Dr. Gray and Steve Drain (8-18).
  • Conversations and observations of daily street preaching, hymn singing, Sunday worship, dinner (courtesy of the Drains), and Bible reading, led by Steve Drain with Jonathan Phelps.
  • Prior to the WBC interviews, the research team met with local LGBTQ and Jewish activists. Afterward (8-19), the team met with a Topeka attorney and an LGBTQ political activist.

Summer 2018 trip to WBC

In 2018, a group of Miami University students sought a significant, in-depth learning opportunity about one of America’s most controversial religious groups.

The trip enabled students to interview and interact with members of the Westboro Baptist Church at their homes in Topeka. This unique field experience challenges students to reflect upon their biases, grow as interviewers, and research a new approach to highly oppositional religious groups.

By providing students hands-on work with nonjudgmental, empathetic research techniques, the research trip also fosters the intercultural competency to handle intense partisanship and the kinds of difficult conversations that are crucial for civil understanding on college campuses and beyond.

List of interviews by the project:

August 2019, Topeka: t/b/d

August 2018, Topeka. Steve Drain; Tim Phelps; Abigail Phelps; Brent and Shirley Phelps-Roper with three sons; Jonathan & Paulette Phelps; Margie Phelps; Katherine Griffin and Rebekah Phelps-Davis; group of young WBC women; Sam, Jen, Isaiah, Moriah Phelps; Charles and Rachel Hockenbarger with children.

July 2017, Topeka. Rachel. Steve D. Tim and Lee Ann. Margie. Shirley. Benaiah. Sam, Jen, and Isaiah. Jonathan. Ben.

January 2016, Topeka. Steve Drain. Jonathan and Paulette. Shirley and Rebekah. Jael, Bekah, Deborah. Chris Jaques. Charles, Jen, and Rachel. Jacob, Jabez, Ben. Mark Hill.

Fall 2011, Oxford OH interview cancelled.

May 2011, Columbus, OH. Shirley, Tim, Megan.

July 2010, Topeka. Fred Phelps, Sr. Shirley Phelps-Roper. Jonathan and family. Fred and Betty. Tim and family. Ben and Mara. Brothers (Fred Jr., Jonathan, Tim). Sisters. The Drains. Health professionals. Jews and Judaism group. Two couples (Charles, Rachel, Sam, Jen). Granddaughters. Grandsons.

May 2010, Atlanta (Ben, Lee Ann, Rebekah P-D, Tim)