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.