What’s Up With Westboro?

I’m sure you’ve seen the photos. People surrounding the funeral of a man beaten to death because of his sexual orientation, holding signs declaring that “God Hates Fags.” They’ve stood at the national cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, proclaiming “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.” After the devastating 2008 earthquake in China that killed almost 70,000 people, Westboro Baptist Church released a statement saying they were praying “for many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of Chinese.” They’ve stood outside the Holocaust Memorial, declaring that “God Hates Jews.” They consider natural disasters to be deserved by the areas that suffer from them. Are you a member of the Catholic church? Well, according to them, that makes you a Satanist. Don’t even get them started on Mormons or Muslims. I mean, honestly, the Westboro Baptists really hate just about everybody.

Recently, they announced their plans to picket the funerals of those slain in the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because they believe “God sent the shooter” as some sort of sick “message” to Connecticut. Apparently, God not only hates homosexuals, Catholics, soldiers, Jews, any and all victims of natural disasters, Steve Jobs (yes, seriously), the Swedish (also, seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. Why just the Swedes? Why not the Finnish too? We will never know), anyone of any ethnicity other than white, but also, CHILDREN. Yep, God hates children. If you are getting sick to your stomach right now, you’re not alone. I’m feeling sick just writing about this.

It’s important to note that the Westboro Baptists are actually not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, and have been denounced multiple times by leading Baptist affiliations. They are not representative of any majority of Baptists, or Christians, for that matter. They’re actually a group of about fifty people, who gather their doctrine and facts in very twisted and, dare I say, completely illogical and unfounded ways. Russell Brand recently interviewed two of their leaders, and I’ve gotta hand it to him – he remained much more calm in the face of their vitriol than I would have been. They sat in front of an audience and declared that, according to God, what we see as their hate is actually in our best interest. They think that by saying God sent a shooter to kill innocent children and educators, they’re loving us. Doesn’t make any sense? Yeah, I know. All you have to do is watch as they spew hatred and atrocious words at a few openly gay men that Russell attempted to introduce to them to recognize that the people of Westboro Baptist are not right in the head. They’re not right at all.

The sick thing is, the Westboro Baptists genuinely believe that they are right. They really, really do. They’re consumed by a passion for what they see as the truth. They aren’t just hateful and bigoted. They’re fully, completely, and irrevocably convinced that what they are doing is the right thing to do. This is religious extremism, and it’s religion at its absolute worst. It’s the kind of thing that caused wars to be fought, crusades to be undertaken, and millions of innocent people to be killed across the span of our history. It’s dark, it’s dirty, and it’s disgusting. Most importantly, it is not God. God, the cosmic being, the ruler of the universe, the ultimate good thing, is the farthest thing from what the Westboro Baptists think God is.
I’m not here to argue against what the Westboro Baptists believe. In a room full of educated theologians, nothing they say would hold weight. I’m not even here to point out how truly horrific their words and actions are. The idea that so much hatred for the human race could be contained in one group of people is almost unfathomable to me. Mixing in their idea of God with that definitely is. I don’t know how we read the same Bible and come up with two diametrically opposed views on who God loves. But then again, I could say the same for people who pick and choose what to believe (so you wanna say gays are abhorrent, but eating shellfish and wearing a cotton polyester blend is totes cool with the big guy? Please.), or the normally sane, rational people in my community who freaked the eff out when a democrat got elected and started talking about moving to Canada. I don’t know how we think we’re believing in the same thing. Which just shows how widely varied any faith community is bound to be.

There’s something much more dangerous than the Westboro Baptists. Yes, they can make a whole lotta fuss about things and hold up horribly offensive signs and stomp in the open wounds of families grieving in the wake of tragedy. But at the end of the day, we all know what they are. Very sad, twisted, lost people. We can dismiss them as crazies. We even have legislation developing to limit their hate speech. They know how to get their airtime, but eventually, with enough backing, they won’t be able to anymore.

The thing that’s more dangerous? It’s when people who can’t be so easily dismissed espouse the same beliefs held by the Westboro Baptists. When best-selling Christian authors say that the Newtown shooting was a “warning” sent from God, and they get away with it. I have sat in church on countless occasions as a child, listening to a preacher claim that God sent AIDS to kill off the gay community, as the congregation said amen. I know that these ideologies and beliefs are insidious, snaking their way into hearts and communities, because I have experienced them. At nineteen, I walked away from a fundamentalist church community that believed that homosexuals were condemned to hell and should be kept away from the rest of society. The scary thing is how many people, people who seem normal and loving, people who are regular, functioning members of society, actually agree on some level with the Westboro community. They would never hold a sign or picket a child’s funeral, but the fundamental beliefs reside in them strongly. Those people, the ones who believe in a doctrine of hate, live in all of our communities. I was raised to be one of them. When the ideology of hate seeps into people’s hearts and becomes the “right” thing, it’s almost always irreversible.

To me, the scariest thing isn’t just that the people of Westboro Baptist believe what they believe. It’s that people I know, people you know, people who don’t make the news or get on TV, believe it too. They’ll hate just because someone is different, just because someone dared to love in a way foreign to them, or because someone chose to worship a different god. The hatred in their hearts beats in the same time as the hatred in the hearts of those of Westboro, and that, that hate, is the real tragedy.

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