Family, friends, admirers and fellow veterans from around the nation are coming for the memorial service. And then there are the representatives of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who plan to attend and protest.
If you’ve watched any national news shows over the past decade, you’ve likely seen reports of Westboro’s protest activities at funerals of fallen soldiers. We need to be clear up front that this Kansas group is an independent “Baptist” church and expresses its own unique doctrine which should in no way be attributed to any other Baptist church.
As the church’s own news release announcing plans to be in Three Rivers states: “God hates America and is killing our troops in His wrath.” This they attribute to this nation’s contemporary embrace of all things gay (though it doesn’t reconcile American troops dying in all wars from our country’s inception). In fact, the church’s web address is www.godhatesfags.com.
According to a PBS story on the church from last March, there are roughly 100 members of the congregation and most are related to the same family of successful attorneys. The Phelps family apparently is quite good at suing and its winnings underwrite their protest trips around the nation. Sometimes, when communities try to block them, they also sue for their constitutional rights and collect more funds there.
“Westboro Baptist Church is an organization that essentially has no friends whatsoever on the far right, the far left or anyplace in between,” Mark Potok at the Southern Poverty Law Center told PBS.
PBS also reports church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper “says the members want God to punish Americans for tolerating homosexuality. They picket funerals to make people angry.” She notes, “We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation.”
It’s a different theological twist to be certain. It’s also no wonder their numbers are small with their goal of turning folks away from God. With that logic, it would appear the Apostles went forth and died for the wrong message.
You do not have to embrace homosexuality to be offended by the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” at a time and place when family members are mourning the loss of a loved one.
Theology has been twisted time and again throughout history to justify man’s inhumanity to man. We can only hope this Saturday that the non-believers will ignore the protesters and the true believers will pray for them.
Saturday is dedicated to the memory of a good man, Clovis Ray, who died so that we might all have our freedom – including the Westboro Baptist Church members. If only they respected Ray’s sacrifice for them.
– Jeff Latcham