On Tuesday, our county received an unwelcome visit from members of Westboro Baptist “Church.” You may know them better as the “God Hates F-gs” church (they are apparently happy with that nickname – it’s the address of their website). That slogan adorns their protest signs, along with other catchy phrases like, “Thank God for 9/11” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”
They are best known for picketing military funerals of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country . . . ironically servicepeople who made that sacrifice while defending rights like freedom of speech, even speech from entities like Westboro Baptist “Church.”
There wasn’t a lot of advance notice about the local protest. I didn’t find out until Sunday when someone mentioned it to me in church.
The next day I got an e-mail from an area pastor who wanted to join with other clergypeople holding signs demonstrating the love of Christ; I guess in essence saying, “That’s not really what Christians are like.” Then I got a reply-all to that e-mail from another pastor urging everyone to stay away; his point was that the best way to respond to this “church” in desperate need of attention was to deny any attention. Kind of like you do with a toddler having a tantrum (my analogy, not his).
Circumstances made the decision for me – I had other commitments that afternoon. But what would have been the right choice if I had been free?
Apparently only three protesters from Westboro Baptist “Church” showed up outside Glen Burnie High School, the site of the demonstration. But their appearance caused quite a ruckus and made the six o’clock news and the newspaper. From their perspective, I guess it was “Mission Accomplished.” They got their message out about whom God hates, and they got themselves noticed (which seems to be their primary motivation).
There were hundreds of other folks who counter-protested or just showed up to see what was going on. The big turnout helped the Westboro Baptist “Church” folks get some airtime. I’m not sure the media would have turned out if there had been just the trio of lonely protesters marching up and down the square with their hateful signs.
(Anybody catch the Monty Python reference in that sentence? If not, check out the video in the link.)
So maybe staying away was the thing to do.
On the other hand, in anecdotal accounts shared with me and in the news reports there is a hopeful phenomenon. The distaste (dare I say hatred?) of the vitriol spewed by the Westboro Baptist “Church” protesters seems to have united folks who normally wouldn’t have much in common. That afternoon, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and Catholics, Ravens fans and Steelers fans (amazing!) all joined together.
I love the quotes from Glen Burnie High School students in an article on the Capital News Service website:
Student Colleen White said the Westboro protest actually brought students closer together, as they discussed tolerance and anti-bullying in the days leading up to the protest.
“It’s really cool to see our school come together and unify together for one common cause,” she said.
That is really cool. Kind of reminds me of something Joseph is quoted saying in Genesis: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20a, ESV). So thank you, Westboro Baptist “Church,” for giving God the opportunity to bring folks together against hate.
Oh, and speaking of God, let’s close with these responses from His Word to the claims of Westboro Baptist “Church” that God’s happy with hating on, well, anyone:
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (I John 2:9, NIV)
But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (I John 2:11, NIV)
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (I John 3:15, NIV)
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (I John 4:20, NIV)
Seems pretty clear to me. But those are just Bible verses, unfortunately not as catchy or as media-baiting as “God Hates” whomever. Too bad.