The folks at Westboro Baptist think I’m going to hell, and I’m OK with that. This is simply based on my membership in the Satanic cult known as the Roman Catholic Church, but they could probably find another reason to predict my eternal damnation if they knew anything about me.
They are in the news again this week, picketing funerals and otherwise being hideous. I think I am supposed to be shocked by their behavior, but I’m not. I would be shocked if they weren’t behaving like this.
No one expects this particular cult to demonstrate any of the charity or love that characterize the best in Christianity. Certainly no one expects them to be models of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue. Their version of “loving thy neighbor” is “letting thy neighbor know that he is in danger of eternal hellfire in the most noxious possible way”. I am literally never surprised when they take an opportunity to fill their self-appointed role as prophets of God’s hate.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth giving them the publicity they get. It seems as if that is just feeding the beast. What good does it do us? It makes us feel good about not being like them, it gives us that delightful tingle of indignation, but does it do anything to bring light to the darkness they proclaim?
To put it another way, is their hate speech news? Or is it just more of the same?
I remember the first time I was made aware of them, when someone had told me about their website with a web address too vulgar for me to share. I went to the website because I didn’t believe what I was hearing.
Immediately I burst into tears. I was 18, a freshman in college, and felt as if I had been slapped by hatred. That such cruelty existed in the world was beyond belief.
And now I wish they’d stop getting so much attention. Is it just that I’m jaded now? Is it right for me to want to rob someone of the visceral reaction to hate that can galvanize us for love?
What do you think? Should we stop paying attention to Westboro Baptist, or does paying attention to them serve a purpose?
Jonathan F. Sullivan says
Growing up in Kansas, I learned to stop paying attention to them a long time ago. I first became aware of them sometime in the late 80s while in elementary school; they were protesting an exhibit of Russian treasures at a museum in Kansas City. Even then I figured anyone crazy enough to protest Faberge eggs and the czar’s crowns wasn’t worth my time.
Even then I figured anyone crazy enough to protest Faberge eggs and the czar’s crowns wasn’t worth my time.
There you have it.
I think giving them attention only makes the problem worse.
WBC is a cult. One thing that cults need is a way to keep members dependent on the leadership and against the outside world. The purpose of the over the top rhetoric is not to warn people of hellfire, it is to get people mad at them. Then, the leadership can tell the congregation, “See, the world hates us. We’re the only ones you can trust.
Excellent point. I can definitely understand the argument that attention feeds the fire.
Sam Sawyer, SJ says
I think the challenge is to stop being shocked by them — as you point out very well — while continuing to be sorrowed by them and on behalf of those they target and even for them.
The larger problem highlighted here is that our communal capacity for self-congratulation-via-righteous-indignation (“It makes us feel good about not being like them, it gives us that delightful tingle of indignation”) tends to exceed any capacity for being moved by indignation to love.
Our mass media culture doesn’t have a mode for grief (in the expansive, Augustinian sense: the response of the just and loving heart to the consequences of sin). So, whenever we’re given something grief-worthy to view, it comes with the suggestion that it requires an answer, that it must be fixed or responded to. And when there’s no effective response available, as with WBC, and we can’t be summoned by CNN to prayer and fasting instead, we get self-righteousness — “I thank you God that I am not like other people” thieves, rogues, …” and bigots, even these crazy WBC people.
But I have less than no idea what to do about that blind spot in mass media, other than the aforementioned prayer and fasting.
I think the self-righteousness is the most dangerous part of the equation, because it keeps us from recognizing the plank in our own eye. Love everything about this comment.
Don Sartain says
Westboro both breaks my heart and drives me into a rage at the same time. Personally, I don’t think the media will ever stop focusing on WBC because that gives the court of public opinion more ammunition against Christianity. But, yes, I do wish we’d take them out of the spotlight and shine that on a church that’s actually trying to be like Christ. I’m grateful that God is sovereign, and that even when those who claim Christ actually work against Christ, He is still building His Church.
I guess I hadn’t given that a ton of thought, because I just assume that everyone knows that they’re not “real” Christians. But to people with only a passing familiarity with religion, they might seem like a legitimate church, and that makes us all look bad.
Donald Kolenda says
Thanks for your post. I agree; we pay too much attention to them. It’s very difficult, however, when they continue to commit such egregious acts.