Tuesday, February 21, 2012


A few weeks ago, a man named Josh Powell blew up his home in Washington State with his 2 small children inside.  On purpose.  The world was left to wonder why.  How can one be so cruel?  How could a man do that to his kids?  Why is their so much cruelty in the world? Thank goodness that we had Westboro Baptist "Church" to answer these very important questions for us.  According to this "church", it all happened in Washington because of the state's recent "rebellion"; a reference to the state's support of same sex marriage.  God was punishing Washington.  Westboro has protested a number of military funerals because the "church" (note the repeated use of quotation marks) believes that our soldiers are dying in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan because of our country's tolerance for homosexuality. They hold up signs like "Pray for more dead soldiers"; logic so skewed and twisted that it is beyond my ability to even comprehend it.  I've seen pictures on the news that showed Westboro children that could not have been more than 5 or 6 years old holding up signs with messages that I won't dare repeat.  You can Google the "church" if you want to see them for yourself.  My 5 year old son recently held up a sign that said "Good Luck Dad, we love you" at the 5K I ran several weeks ago.  The "Westboro kids" hold up signs condemning the world to the eternal pit of fire; unless of course it repents.  At least according to the 4 year old.  This, in my opinion, is just about as sad as it gets.

This is not a blog about whether or not I believe that homosexuality is sin/not sin, right/wrong, a choice/born that way, so if that whole conversation makes you uptight then you can read on.  I have my feelings about it that are personal to me and the people that I know and love.  I do want to say this.  It seems that the church (not just Westboro) has made it a habit of demonizing the people that it calls "sinners".  Not only that, but it seems to pick and choose which "sins" among the many are worthy of this particularly charged demonization and condemnation.  Maybe I missed it, but I've never seen or heard the church actively communicating the fact that those who abuse their wives to the point of sending them to the ER in the middle of the night are going to the above mentioned eternal flames. I don't see the church holding up signs that are condemning people who blow up their kids.  I haven't noticed the church demonizing pornography, genocide, or child abuse.  Again, maybe I've missed these regular displays, signs, protests, and "occupy-like" movements by the church because I don't get around to watching the news every day.  But if I were a betting man, I'd bet the farm that the reason why I don't see these things is because they simply aren't happening. In fact, my bet would be "all in".

I've been doing a little research.  I've noticed that in the Bible, when Jesus sat with "sinners" like "tax collectors" and "prostitutes", etc; his interaction with them was far different.  Sometimes, Jesus would even hang out with lepers.  Lepers were considered ritually unclean, which was about the worst possible state of condition a human being could be in.  You were an outcast if you were unclean.  No one wanted anything to do with you.  Period.  Jesus did in fact point the finger when he encountered people like this.  Funny thing though, the finger got pointed at the "finger pointers".  Jesus had some "not so nice things"  to say to the self righteous legalists who seemed to make a living out of pointing out the faults of others.  Like this one time when Jesus sat (reclined) at a table with the afore mentioned "sinners".  The Pharisees (legalists) jumped on that one like a fish to water.  "Why is he sitting with them"?  Part of his response included this, "I desire compassion...I did not come to call the righteous but sinners".  Guess what?  That word "sinners" included (or includes) everyone.  If you are reading this blog then like it or not, you fall into that category.  You are a sinner.  So am I, there's just no getting around it.  You also get the grace of the cross.  WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?  Yes, you also get the grace.  May not make sense my fellow believers, but you get it.  Oh, by the way, guess what Jesus did one day when an unclean and socially unacceptable leper came right up to him and begged to be healed?  Jesus touched him. SCANDALOUS!!!  He touched a leper, which meant that Jesus was now unclean!!!!  At least according to the rules.  Those rules were not the same as Jesus' "rules".  His rules are not the same as our rules either.  "My ways are not your ways", he said.  Thank God.

So to the "Westboro-like theologians/churches" of the world, time to fess up.  You know who you are.  To call yourself the "Body of Christ" means to act like you actually are the Body of Christ.  The message is salvation not condemnation.  Point your finger at one you call a "sinner" and the finger can be pointed right back at you.  That statement is true for everyone but the sinless Jesus.  What were those words again?  "For God did not come to condemn the world but to save it".  That's the Gospel of John.  Those are the words of Jesus. And again.  "Forgive them Father", Jesus is quoted as saying as he hung on the cross while looking down at the people who were calling for his death and giving him sour wine and gall to drink.  And to put it another way.  "Do not judge others, for you will be judged by the same measure that you are judging them".  Yep, that's Jesus.  Grace rules the day in God's Kingdom.  I don't claim to know who's in and who's out or who gets the "pit" and who gets the clouds.  I don't know who spends eternity "smoking" or "not smoking" as the familiar church signs declare.  I do know that when I condemn/judge that I'm usually doing it to make myself look better and feel better.  At least I'm not as bad as that guy, right?  I know that Jesus loved the people that the world said were not supposed to be loved.  He accepted the unacceptable.  And then in one great and awesome act, he saved the world and asked a couple of things in return.  Believe.  Repent.  Love God.  Love neighbor.  Love self.  Love neighbor?  Love self?  What does that mean?  

It means to love sinners I suppose.



  1. When I read this through the first time I thought I could just shake my head and walk away. The number of emotional responses I have to this discussion are surprising in their depth and in their number. As I move through a day-to-day kind of existence where I'm required to shelve this kind of stuff in favor of more mundane matters like earning a living, I forget that on both sides of these endless debates are people who need to believe they're right. They have to believe they're right. Otherwise the questioning of their position would open pathways of thought that might belie the tradition of birthright, race, religion or social standing.

    We (and here I literally mean we - all of us) move through the world acting out of a sense of order. We say and do things that spring from a consciousness that believes itself to be "right". There is in each of us a rationale that (however twisted or convoluted) believes itself to have arrived at the only possible conclusion in thought and deed. Lurking behind every act - whether saintly or despotic - is a mind that had to say "yes".

    End of Part 1

  2. Part 2

    A moment of non-sequitur if I may: the insanity of the holocaust cannot be laid solely at the feet of Hitler. It is appropriately laid at the feet of every person who had a voice to say "enough" and chose the route of comfortable silence instead. As long as the target is someone else, the little steps that lead to inevitable disaster don't seem to be too immediately significant.

    Westboro Baptist Church - or "church" as Father Mike puts it - is guilty of bad behavior in our social context. They are, to put it mildly, a little over the top in their hatred of the homos. I certainly wouldn't argue in their favor. Their particular brand of crazy is so profoundly over the edge that it would be comedic were it not for the people and families their vitriol seeks to harm. Even Herr Hitler would probably consider them a tad "extreme". But aside from bad behavior and perhaps a lunatic reasoning, what do they do but represent the "Hyde Factor"? And do we take them less seriously because they are so over the edge?

    Right now I know that if I see a sign that says Westboro Baptist I can safely assume that the person holding that sign is not my friend. That particular enemy has made his position clear. What concerns me are the people I've encountered who carried equally deadly firepower in their words and hidden deeds but cloaked it in the velvet glove of their winning smile and a pious urging to "make a different choice" before it's "too late". Is it just me or do the wounds seem to hurt a little more because they came from someone who purported to be a friend but ultimately joined with the popular view and religiously / politically correct behavior? When ordinary Germans reflected on the atrocities of the Nazi regime did they see themselves in the person of those who ran the camps or carried out the experiments? Did they ever consider that their silence was the fuel that allowed the Jewish people (and others) to be pushed step by legalistic step into non-personhood?

    Maybe most of them were able to look back and say "I didn't do it". Perhaps. Perhaps they had different memories. Maybe they looked back and instead said "I didn't do anything."

    End of Part 2

  3. Part 3

    Westboro may be a church of lunatics. I certainly don't share their particular interpretation of what God may be saying through the Word or some other conduit of divine conversation. But ironically they don't scare me. They wear their weapons of crass destruction proudly and I (we) can see them for who they are: religious zealots wanting to be heard; full of spit and vinegar but utterly lacking in any meaningful spiritual substance.

    But their presence serves as a deflection from the kind of benign betrayal that is no no less dangerous for being quiet. Those Germans who were the everyday neighbors probably did not go to Jewish funerals and spew vulgarities. They may not have made their signs to be carried by small children. I would bet they were "God-fearing decent people" who just wanted to live life and not get too involved in the drama outside of their homes. Did their kitchen conversations contain overtones of superiority when the subject of "those people" came up? I can only wonder. I wonder what thoughts went through their everyday ordinary minds when they saw a truckload of Jews being carted off?

    It's not the Westboro Baptists that keep me up at night. It's the little steps of encroachment on human dignity that seek to make who I am no longer valid as a person. When Jews ceased to be people the whole process became more tolerable. Once the populace could agree that they were an enemy they could easily divert their attention from their own sins and perhaps be less bothered when the people who were "friends" only days or weeks before were taken away.

    Westboro's behavior is no way a religious perspective. I believe it's a mistake to engage their position on the basis of spiritual relevancy. I can see how Father Mike would have to be appalled that people calling themselves a church could behave in such an inhumane way towards those who are so clearly suffering loss. I share that point of view.

    But beyond the obvious distaste I share for their behavior, I have to ask: do they represent in bold relief the devil that lurks just under the surface of a suburban mind?

    Anyone reading this will rightly suspect that I have had some measure of experience in dealing with the issue of acceptance. I've been asked to leave churches, had parents refuse to let their kids be part of activities in which I had a part, been beaten and left for dead by the young men who give voice to the fear and revulsion that "we" seem to engender in certain folk. It hasn't been a uniformly positive experience. But I have learned something.

    End of Part 3

  4. Part 4

    It's not the histrionics of a deranged Baptist minister from Westboro that cause me concern. I can avoid and deal with that as a known threat. But when I hear the nice neighborly voice that tells me that my "choice" is okay with them I get concerned. If that person is not concerned when a people are targeted and their rights "decided" then that person becomes a little like the Germans of the 30's and 40': Don't get involved, don't upset the natural order of things.

    No, it's not the extreme voice of the nutcases like Westboro that cause me concern. It's the sweet voice that agrees to disagree when it cannot competently explain how my having a quiet marriage to my partner would threaten the fabric of their lives and civilization as a whole.

    Father Mike seems to suggest that we need a little more "Jesus-like" consideration in our affiliation with the great unwashed (that would include me). That's a good thing to do. But Jesus actually went so far as to interact, to touch those unclean folks. It wasn't a "concern from the sidelines". He ACTED on his position.

    I wonder though if Jesus would have stood in front of the truck when the Nazis tried to drive off with the Jews? I like to think he would. I'd also like to think that he would stand in front of the truck if it came for my people - and me - as well.

    End of Part 4 - end of person perspective on this.