Saturday, May 30, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church in Rhode Island II

So here is the update on Westboro Baptist Church's appearance in RI.
I attempted to get some American Baptist Clergy to attend one or two of their 'protests'.

Let me explain that. I wasn't aiming for a 'counter-protest' as it is apparent to me that one cannot engage in a well-reasoned and respectful dialogue with this hate group. However, I thought an American Baptist presence at their protests would be an act of service to our Jewish sistes and brothers. Instead of leaving them to bear the brunt of this hate on their own, we as Baptist clergy could stand in solidarity with the jewish community and as a silent, peaceful, barrier to the hate of Westboro. I also felt that many in this state mis-understand the baptist denomination and will mistake Westboro's form of being 'baptist' for all 'baptist's'.

Not many seemed interested and leaders at the state lever, Catholic Bishop, Episcopalian Bishop, Executive of ABOCORI and a number of Rabbi's decided that ignoring Westboro's protests, responding in the following week with an ecumenical letter condemning their hate speech would be most appropriate.

I was concerned about this also. With all due respect, I feel it was a bit easy for the Catholic and Episcopalian responce to be; 'ignore them' They call themselves baptists after all and the majority of RI's are terribly ignorant of what Baptist means to begin with. There is no danger for the Catholic or Episcopalians to ignore Westboro, no one will associate their hate with those churches. But most people hear 'Baptist' and think we, like the Catholic church, all espouse the same theology. Still, I respected the decision and cancelled any further discussion of a peace barrier.

Article have filled the papers; the Rhode Island Catholic had an article as did the Providence Journal and despite the hopes of our states religious leaders, the Westboro folks were NOT ignored by the press; see ABC 6 and WPRI.

So we ignored them, but East Providence High did not, nor did others. So is the religious community conspicuous in its absence? Apart from some 'letters to the editor' of various papers, no Baptist Clergy had any skin in the game.

But given the tenor of the 'counter-protest' I'm not sure I would have wanted to be there. The Projo reports that at one point the counter-protesters errupted into obscenities. One young man is quoted as saying that 'It's anybody's right to do what they want.' Now, while I am can support one man loving another, or woman, and even support their marrying, this quote above is an example of the liberal idea of an autonomous individual that not even the most skeptical or atheistic of ethicists could support. According to the ProJo, at Brown some signs quoted the Bible back at Westboro, but the very idea of the Bible being used as a weapon is disgusting, turning it around to return fire at Westboro is no less distasteful to me.

In the end, I fear the largely hate was met with hate, where Jesus taught us to love our enemies and offer prayers for them. I don't think anyone was praying for Westboro, which would have been the point of the action I wanted to propose.

I wasn't happy to remain silent in the face of this rhetoric, but in the end, perhaps silence was the best response.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church in Rhode Island

Matt 5:21-22

21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool !' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

This week a hate group that markets itself as a Baptist church, ‘Westboro Baptist Church’ will be appearing in the state of RI at various sites including the State House, the Naval War College, Brown University, The Jewish Community Center and a couple of Temples in the state. You can find more information about this hate group at their website and the name of the website probably tells you all that you need to know about these folks. I thought for a moment I might quote them in this statement, but their words are so disgusting and evil that I couldn’t bring myself to even ‘cut and paste’ them.
Westboro Baptist Church first came to national consciousness as far as I know by picketing Matthew Shepherd’s funeral and then placing on their website a picture of Matthew Shepherd’s face bouncing on flames (suggesting his place in hell). The picket with a number of absurd and filthy signs such as; God Hates Fags, You’re Going to Hell, Fags Die God Laughs, Thank God for IED’s, Thank God for Dead Soldiers, etc. I think it is obvious, but still needs to be said, that these people do not speak with any authority on the Bible, the Christian faith, or for Baptists.

My first concern is primarily the people who will come into contact with these people and who are target of their hateful rhetoric. I am also concerned with the fact that they call themselves a Baptist church. In a state like RI, which is predominantly catholic, many of our neighbors do not understand the Baptist tradition. Many times I have had to explain to well-intentioned but uneducated Catholic neighbors that Baptists DO worship God, Do believe in Jesus, and are in fact the same religion as they are. Westoboro Baptist Church does not represent the Baptist tradition in any way shape or form. We believe in a God of love and that God made ‘himself’ known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose words in Matthew I quoted above. Jesus expected that the first mark of a Christian community would be speech that is loving and patient. People would know that we follow Jesus just by listening to us talk to one another, for our words and tone would be honest and true, but loving and intended to lift up. The members of Westoboro Baptist Church, in all of their Bible quoting, have read right past the essential building block of being Christ’s body on earth, speak with honesty and love. According to what Matthew wrote, in speaking this way, they are condemning themselves through their own condemnation. The Hell that they threaten is the Hell they themselves will receive through their own hurtful, hateful speech.

Let us be in prayer that God will protect all those who are attacked by these people, and use this opportunity to explain to our RI neighbors that Baptists, specifically Berean Baptist is a place where we talk about God’s love for all humanity.