According to their website, Westboro Baptist Church is coming to picket the General Conference tomorrow, or as they say, “their annual convention in Tampa.” I would provide the link but I already feel a bit dirtier having been on their sites for just a few minutes myself. A quick Google search will help you to find their site if you feel the need to verify the information. They are planning to protest General Conference from 1:45-2:30pm tomorrow (Friday); assuming that they follow through on their threats to do so. Their track record is a little suspect for people of such high integrity (insert sarcastic tone here).
According to Wikipedia,
the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an Independent Baptist church known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals of American servicemen and desecrating the American flag. The church is widely described as a hate group and is monitored as such by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center. It is headed by Fred Phelps and consists primarily of members of his large family; in 2011, the church stated that it had about 40 members.
After the actions of the General Conference this week, I do wonder what exactly it is that they plan to protest. From what I can tell, while we work very hard to speak politely about the topic of homosexuality, we are very clear as a church that we do not find the behavior to be compatible with Scripture. We aren’t even willing to recognize that there could be faithful dissent or disagreement with that position. Wouldn’t this be progress or at least steadfastness from the point of view of this issue driven church.
Now of course I recognize that The United Methodist Church is very, very different from the Westboro Baptist Church. To equate our denomination to this truly reprehensible ‘church’, even with our position on homosexuality in tow, wouldn’t be intellectually honest. From what is publicly known, Westboro functions more like a hate-business than a church as we might understand it. Even the Ku Klux Klan distances itself from this organization. (1)
I guess what I am deeply disturbed by is how weak a witness we offer in contrast to this force of hate in this world. While we do acknowledge that all people are of sacred worth, somehow that doesn’t keep members of our General Conference from equating homosexuality with bestiality. And it’s hard to forget that we spent time debating whether God truly loves all people. These may be outlier positions but I fear there may be some it the great tent of United Methodism who might even have some sympathy for the actions of Westboro Baptist.
I am not a United Methodist because it is a church filled with people I agree with. I am a United Methodist because it is filled with people I don’t agree with. People who see the world differently than I do help me to see another facet, or small angle, of the truly complex and wonderfully made world in which we live. I get the attraction people have for certainty, as was expressed at several points in the debate today, but I’m just not convinced that the Gospel is about providing for our comfort at the expense of the dignity and respect of others.
I love that I work for a conference that includes churches that hold significantly different theological beliefs and emphases. I know this diversity doesn’t come easy and I suspect there are churches that don’t always feel respected; that truly saddens me. If we are a church that doesn’t hold difference as a virtue however, how powerful can our witness truly be in a world that is as complicated as the one we live in. People are looking for certainty and there is value clarity; on this I think we can agree. But there is something incredibly clear about saying that God loves all people without exception; it saddens me that we can’t do so together.
Photo Credit: Photo by Flickr user Anthony Posey.