Lesson 2: Speaking For God

All three of our youth groups are very troubled with those claiming to speak for God when uttering hate messages. Twice during the last year the High School Reading Group wanted to talk about Westboro Baptist’s antigovernment protests at veterans’ funerals. I sent the following paper to start discussion for one of those. You can check out a summary of their conversation in the first comment here.

PROPER RESPONSES TO THE WESTBORO BAPTIST PROTESTS

We should be clear Christians may protest against authority. Jeremiah stood at the temple gate with a yoke on his shoulders to show God accused his people of submitting to bondage under Babylonia. Isaiah made the same claim about serving Egypt and Assyria when he wore prisoners’ clothing for two years. Jesus protested Roman military and political oppression by entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday peacefully riding a donkey. He also cleansed the temple in a more aggressive act against the temple authorities. And Martin Luther King attacked laws supporting discrimination with nonviolent resistance. The question with the Westboro Baptists is whether they really speak God’s Word and if they do it in an appropriate manner.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Freedom of Speech extends to the Church’s protests. Notice they did not base their finding on Freedom of Religion.  The first amendment separates church and state, but does not prohibit a church from speaking out against the government or the government from penalizing the church if she breaks laws, such as abusing the rights of others. Lower courts have limited Westboro’s rights by forcing them to stay certain distances from the funerals. We might question whether Westboro really is breaking US law.

Westboro is a small church of about 75 people located in Topeka, Kansas. Almost every member belongs to the family of the pastor, Fred Phleps. They are totally independent, belonging to no larger church body. Their obsession with homosexuality seems to have stemmed from a failed effort to clear gay solicitation from a nearby public park. They now regard homosexuality as the epitome of all immorality. Claiming the Bible blames every natural tragedy on our failure to obey God’s laws, they see our refusal to make homosexuality a capital offense causing the death of these soldiers.

They picket more than military funerals, however. They regularly demonstrate against churches, religions, nations, schools, and any group they think in any way supports the “homosexual agenda”. They appear with signs, such as “Jews killed Jesus”, at as many as 15 churches a Sunday. The largest item in their annual budget is the $250,000 used to transport their people to these protests. They also sponsor a number of Websites. They insist they never use physical force, because the Bible prohibits violence.

Their persistence slogan is “God hates”. That includes “God hates fags”, “God hates Jews”, “God hates Roman Catholics”, “God hates Muslims”, “God hates England”, “God hates the United States”, “God hates marines”, and on and on.”.

People have responded in various ways. Some stage large counter rallies at other sites; some gather close by and turn their backs on the protesters; some surround them with much larger groups so their actions can not be observed.

So let’s discuss how Christians should regard this group that claims the name “Church”. What standards can we use to do this? What are possible public ways we can respond to their protests?

1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    This issue upset the 9th to 12th graders more than any other we other we discussed. At the beginning of the year they primarily expressed their disgust, asking how a Christian group could claim God caused the deaths of servicemen and did this to punish our nation. A few were macho: “If they came here, they’d be sorry.” Most had questions about applying Freedom of Speech unconditionally in this case, as they felt Westboro’s antics infringed on the privacy rights of the grieving family. They also had trouble with demonizing homosexuals. Most of our young people see homosexuality as an acceptable alternate life style. They believe others have a right to disagree, but not to act like Westboro. In fact, they question if you can ever say “God hates”. In general, they felt Westboro was giving the wrong message at the wrong time.

    Six months later they wanted to revisit the situation asking this time what would be an appropriate response. They compared Westboro’s protests to Klu Klux Klan visits to Gettysburg as well as to terrorists’ methods. I mentioned I thought they would have to deal with this challenge much more than my generation. Young people develop quite a lot during these years, so it was gratifying to see them trying to balance the rights of freedom and privacy more calmly during this second meeting.

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