The catalyst was this press release, and Twitter updates referencing it. I apologize for the foul and hateful language in this. It's vile.
Now, I admit that I have been.... well, I'm not the most vociferous in my faith. I'm not a Bible thumper. Every other word out of my mouth does NOT praise Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. But I do believe in God - I am a Christian, to be sure.
This is what I learned at church growing up:
- Jesus loves the little children
- Do good things, and you'll go to heaven
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Setting aside all the Scripture that I am about to quote - it's really easy to traumatize someone who has just gone through a tremendous loss - the death of a loved one, a senseless tragedy in your hometown. This is exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church, a small but vociferous group of about forty people, do every time there is a well-publicized tragedy. From the funerals of dead servicemen, veterans who died for their country, to hurricanes, earthquakes.... and yes, even mass shootings of children. This is the same tactic employed by schoolyard bullies for years - bully the weak and the struggling, so you look mighty. It's not right when bullies do it, and it's not right when a church does it.
The Westboro Baptist Church use Scripture to rail against gay marriage and other lifestyles they find amoral. Much of the Scripture they use is from Leviticus. Leviticus is the 3rd book of the Bible. Essentially, it is a law book, for living in biblical times. In there, it is forbidden for a man to lay down with another man. Leviticus 18:22. It's pretty clear, right? They fail to mention other laws from Leviticus. Let me give you a little passage from Leviticus 23:26-32
26 The Lord said to Moses, 27 “The tenth day of this seventh monthis the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves,[a] and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. 29 Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30 I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.32 It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”
That's Yom Kippur that is being discussed. Yom Kippur, for those not familiar with Judaism, is the Jewish Day of Atonement, and the holiest day of the Jewish year. It's not a day that Christians celebrate, and not a day on the Westboro Baptist calendar. In fact, rather than atonement, the WBC released this press release of hate.
So, clearly, there is a selective reading of Levitican law by the Westboro Baptist Church.
I grew up in Enfield, CT - and because this tragedy happened in Connecticut, it probably is ringing even sharper for me. The reason I mention this is because of what happened in Enfield on July 8, 1741. I don't know if kids who grew up outside of Enfield are familiar with Jonathan Edwards, but on this date, he delivered the famous sermon "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God". He was sent to Enfield to quite literally scare the Hell out of a particular congregation - to get them to turn to God and His teachings. He visits wickedness as a theme - the thing that will condemn people to Hell.
Does this message sound familiar? Well, it is similar, except Edwards offered a way out that didn't involve hatred. He wanted to see less hard hearts and more rejoicing in the Lord. The Westboro Baptist Church doesn't do that at all. They speak when there are cameras looking. They seek out the spotlight, highlighting their vanity and their beautiful signs. And, at this point, it's time for another Bible verse:
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground
Ezekiel 28:13-17, for those who would like to go look it up. And, in this case, God is directly addressing the angel Lucifer, as he was being tossed out of Heaven. Lucifer - also known as Satan - is the embodiment of all that is wicked. It is to this standard that, with their pain and cruel words, the WBC is living.
Let's talk about some of these cruel words. The parishioners of the Westboro Baptist Church like to put a lot of those on pretty signs. Here are a few below - I cannot speak the words.
And yet, clear as day, Isaiah 40:1
"Comfort, O comfort My people" says your God.
Would a God that hates want his people to have comfort? Furthermore, where is the comfort being offered by these words and images? Answer: there is no comfort. And, even from a secular standpoint - these signs are just plain mean, obnoxious, and aimed at people already in mourning.
These signs and images are designed for one reason and one reason only - to get a reaction out of people. The threat of this reaction is often enough for the media to give these people time on the air to talk about their hateful views. It is frequently effective in doing so.
However, I do not believe we should be so easily allowing these people access to the media. Their threats are empty. The church raises much of its money by suing the families of those they picket for damages. They are First Amendment lawyers. However, just as much as they sue and countersue, they are sued. Their actions are protected by the First Amendment, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Their court battles and travel fees, however, are costly. There are reports that the church is nearly out of money, even with all their business income.
And the attacks are not confined to courtrooms. Their websites are hacked by large organizations, their Twitter accounts stolen. Frankly, in their message to the WBC, Anonymous is far harsher than I am on the actions and "seeds of hatred" that come from the organization. They are the organization that took down the WBC website and published a lot of personal information about the families who are members of the church.
They might want to picket at a location nearly two thousand miles away from their home church. They do not have the means to do so, nor do they have widespread support.
This is by no means the first time Westboro Baptist Church have tried to rally people with their ugliness to their cause. They've picketed military funerals, other churches they see as Godless, and even concerts. In most cases, the people who died (or were still living) are adults. This time, 20 first graders were brutally murdered in their school, through no fault of their own, in what is supposed to be a safe place, and an entire school and entire community was traumatized, through no fault of their own. To even THREATEN to picket and capitalize on such an unspeakable tragedy, and to terrorize the poor parents who just had the most unspeakable horror imposed upon them, through no fault of their own is morally repugnant.
I have two daughters myself. In my mind, if I just let all this go, I am not setting a good example for my daughters. I am not teaching them the true way of the Lord. I am not teaching them to stand up for what they believe in, even in the face of loud opposition or bullies. We have family members that are gay and family members that are in the military. What the Westboro Baptist Church brings in the name of God is a direct attack on our family, and I will not stand for it. I don't agree with their message, and I don't agree even more strongly with their method of delivery.
But I will not fight them with hatred. I will stand strong in my beliefs, but I will face them with light and with love and with kindness and with reason. Thus far, beyond some name-calling that they have brought upon me, they have had no response. In fact, one of my scriptures - Isaiah 40:1 - appeared to have reminded at least one of them the true meaning of Christianity, and they stopped ranting.
All this railing has had a by-product. A lot of my followers - my new followers - are right-wing supporters who probably saw my quotes and thought I was a Bible-belt guy. I'm not, but I also like my new followers - they are good, moral people on the side of right, with whom I don't always agree politically. I welcome opposing viewpoints and respectful debate.
So, I will continue to speak out against bigotry, zealotry, and all that is hateful coming from this tiny little church in Topeka, KS. Thank you for listening while I do.