“God hates fags,” “You’re going to Hell,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Even in the darkness, the picket signs glow, not simply because of their neon hues, but because of the incandescent hate with which they are branded.
This shocking rhetoric flows from the Reverend Fred Phelps and his followers at the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas – smack in the center of America’s heartland. Whether it’s on their toxic website http://www.godhatesfags.com or at one of the 22,000 demonstrations they’ve staged over the last fifteen years, the Church is focused on one key message: America is doomed because, for too long, it has tolerated homosexuality and allowed it to thrive. Church members picket daily in the city of Topeka and often travel abroad. Most recently, Pastor Phelps and his followers have targeted military funerals for soldiers killed in the war in Iraq as a venue to preach God’s wrath against a nation that has apparently been “taken over by the fags.”
Directed by first-time filmmaker K. Ryan Jones – currently a senior at the University of Kansas – Fall From Grace is the first in-depth documentary feature film to focus on Pastor Phelps and his hate group, and features unprecedented access, interviews with Pastor Phelps and other members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Fall From Grace also includes interviews with the myriad of dissenters: Topeka leaders and officials, ministers, theologians, and two of Pastor Phelps’s adult children who have chosen to leave the church and their family.
Westboro Baptist Church is led by Pastor Fred Phelps, a lawyer who was disbarred in the mid-90s for witness intimidation, who started the church fifty years ago. It is a small group, comprised mostly of members of the Phelps family, but their hatred is prolific. They demonstrate anywhere they feel that their message is applicable, like the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming student who was killed for being gay and most recently, at the funerals of military servicemen and women killed in Iraq.
Fall From Grace takes the viewer inside this surreal world with rare interviews and footage of several pickets and church services. The film focuses on a group that represents a variety of contemporary American issues, including intolerance of homosexuality, the right to freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and the War in Iraq.