The Westboro Baptist Church: Rebellion Gone Wrong

Author’s note: Due to the rhetoric used by WBC, some words included in this article may be found offensive. I certainly find them offensive. Please know that the hate-laden words do not reflect the views of the author, the Harvard Ichthus, or Christians at large.

Unfortunately, rebellion does not always end up as a force for enlightened change. Here I will examine how rebellion can err when people conflate hate and love. Watching the news like any normal American, you have likely encountered coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a group that has committed such a mistake. The WBC is a very small and controversial independent “church” located in Kansas that has recently gained much coverage from media outlets. Despite its outsized prominence, it includes only a handful of people amidst the billions who consider themselves Christian and is, as I seek to explain, a substantially misguided sect, though one which can still be understood. I will not focus primarily on their notorious views on homosexuality but rather on their methods of reaching those with whom they disagree—both non-Christians and Christians. The WBC is widely seen as a hate group, and has been particularly labeled as such by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).[1] I hope to explain why this church preaches hatred against homosexuals, Christians, and those of other religions, especially when many others claiming to be Christians see God as pure love (1 Jn 4:8).

There are two basic things that demonstrate an understanding of the WBC: to recognize what Christianity is not about and consequently what a genuine Christian life entails. The dangers of the WBC to those who do not understand Christianity or have misconceived notions about it are very real and need to be cleared up. People see on television or on the internet media the harsh slogans the WBC carries such as “God hates fags” and “Death to American soldiers” and accordingly may associate these slogans with Christianity. This availability heuristic[2] is akin to saying that if someone watches a documentary in which there is a fatal accident with an airplane flight, then he or she might be more scared of boarding a plane even though the danger of an accident are extremely small. In this case, people unfamiliar with Christianity may be more timid of exploring it because the WBC puts forth an unattractive view of Christianity that might affect them, be it consciously or unconsciously.[3] That is, although the overwhelming masses of Christians do not embrace the views of the WBC, many non-Christians face the danger of associating the WBC with major Christian branches (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox). However, let us take a look at what the WBC preaches and how it represents a radical deviation from what is commonly considered Christianity. No matter what denomination one adheres to, the fundamental message of love runs from the same roots – the bible.

As a sermon posted on the WBC website states, “Westboro Baptist Church is in the business of exalting Christ; that is our prime directive. In that pursuit, we eschew evil. ‘[Job] feared God, and eschewed evil.’ The Hebrew word means ‘to cause to turn aside […], put away; to put aside, reject, abolish.’ God emphatically hates pride!”[4] (Job 1:1). By using these scriptures, the WBC finds itself justified to judge others and reject the “evil” that has pervaded modern society. Similar to Christians, the WBC seeks to glorify Christ (or at least says so), but this falls apart when the glorification is done incorrectly. They claim to reject evil, but invite its very presence by rejecting the supremacy of love (1 Jn 4:8). This is most evident in how they manifest their beliefs in society.

The WBC employs several methods in expressing their disdainful and disapproving feelings towards sinners which include but are not limited to creating offensive signs and picketing military funerals. Military funeral picketing is a clear example of the inappropriate and odious nature that is opposed to Christianity. Signs include offensive phrases such as “God Killed Your Sons” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers” among others. It is obvious why the WBC has garnered so much attention and hatred from millions of Americans – saying such horrendous statements in the face of families that are in states of despair due to the loss of their loved ones is intuitively wrong. No one should be subject to unjustified criticisms when losing their loved ones. Such treatment is bound to lead to detestation of the perpetrator, in this case the WBC. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:15,18,20-21). Christians can easily discern that the WBC is heavily misguided – for instance, praying is not to be used as a means for wishing suffering and evil unto our brothers, but for glorious purposes like glorifying God or wishing the betterment of others. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you!” (Psa 122:6).

A simple reading of the Bible would say not to judge others and would suggest reacting differently to sin than the WBC does. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37). The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear through his own words how we are supposed to behave through the greatest commandments. After Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in the Bible, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. That is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Mt 22:37-39). Jesus made it clear how all his followers should summarize his teachings: love God and love one another as he has loved us. Love, as many of us know from prior experience, can be a deeply profound and confounding topic. If those around us choose to bury themselves in sin and commit to a lifestyle rooted in materialism, we must do our best to pull them closer to righteousness. This is done through the introduction of Jesus which provides the sinner the first step towards a rejuvenated lifestyle. Should they choose not to repent or change their ways, we must still love them anyway. While it is simple, there is deep truth in the common Christian maxim, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Although compromising one’s beliefs is not an option, the methods used to communicate those beliefs should be as full of love as can be. This is not manifested through hateful gestures or verbal abuse – love simply does not work that way. For the WBC though, their false conception of ‘love’ is proud in asserting moral superiority over others by judging and ridiculing them. This is not love, but a misunderstanding and a wholesale rejection of the scriptures. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Cor 13:4). The WBC’s fundamental intention (again, I’m construing the church’s intentions in the best light I possibly can) of wanting others to repent of what they perceive to be sin is understandable, but their means are entirely wrong.[5]  They, if given the benefit of the doubt, might want others to hear the gospel and hear the words of truth that will set them free from sin, but they reject being loving in the process. By abandoning the central principle of Jesus’ teaching, the WBC gravely errs in its method of seeking the repentance of sinners.[6] Such preaching cannot properly set others free from the chains of sin. “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Lk 6:39).

This is not what Christianity is for Christians should follow what Jesus has instructed them to do, not pick at certain scriptures and manipulate them with our own interests. As John 4:1 warns us, we must be diligent and wary of “false prophets” that lead us astray from the true beauty that lies at the heart of Christianity.

Just how out of touch is the Westboro Baptist Church? Well, the group has made its stance clear towards well over 99.9% of Christianity. Simply put, the WBC expresses hate towards groups that do not adhere to their teachings and stances. For instance, “The Catholic Church is the largest, most well-funded and organized pedophile machine in the history of man […] It is as if each one of you one billion filthy Catholics over the world personally raped every one of those children.”[7] This ad hominem argument attacks the scandals the church has experienced rather than the teachings embraced within the church. The WBC has reserved similar comments geared at Protestants and even Baptists.[8] We must remember though that as our brothers in creation (as all people are), the Westboro Baptist Church should not be hated and defamed. Rather, we must understand their misunderstanding of Christianity, and return hatred with love (Lk 6:27-36). We must not seek to attack them with excessive derogatory words but seek to love those whom they attack and love them. We must love all, even those that see us as part of the enemy. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). So let us pray for the well-being of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church and hope they find the light because now darkness, not truth, reflects from their words and actions.

 

1 The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. […] Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.” Additional information can be retrieved from the SPLW’s website.

2 An availability heuristic is “A judgment based on the information readily available in memory”. Gerrig, Richard J., and Philip G. Zimbardo. Psychology and Life. 16th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002. Print.

3 Of course, just because Christianity is not altogether attractive to the eyes of the world does not mean it is not true. Many of Christ’s and Paul’s own statements reflect a radical departure from the values of the world.

4 “A Study on Faith and Pride.” God Hates Fags. Westboro Baptist Church, 3 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. note: I apologize for the offensiveness of this citation.

5 The major focus of the WBC is homosexuality though they also ask many other groups and types of “sinners” to repent. The morality of homosexual relations is also disputed within modern Christianity. I will not get into that debate here but will focus on the tactics of the WBC to seek repentance from those whom they see to be in sin.

6 Again, in this article I am not looking into who the WBC sees as sinners as much as their methods.

7 “Goddard Kansas Catholics” God Hates Fags. Westboro Baptist Church, 3 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. note: I apologize for the offensiveness of this citation.

8 This necessitates the WBC’s independent stance.

 

 

Daniel Abarca ’16 is a rising sophomore in Pforzheimer House concentrating in Governmentmer House. Daniel is a staff writer for the Ichthus.

Image from “Shade and Darkness: The Evening of the Deluge” by William Turner.

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