Tactics from Jesus vs the Westboro Baptist Church

The Cranston Patch warns us that Rhode Island may see the return of some unwanted guests…

Declaring the country is stupid and asking the United States population if they can read, the Westboro Baptist Church announced they plan to protest Rhode Island’s recently-passed gay marriage law at Cranston City Hall.
The protest is planned for Aug. 1 at 8 a.m.

This is not the first time Westboro has targeted our state. They performed here in 2009, inspiring students and faculty at East Providence High School to break out a rainbow celebration of tolerance. School Supt. Mario Cirillo is a military veteran, which did not endear him to Westboro, famous for defiling soldier’s funerals.

Who the hell are these people? According to Lauren Drain, an ex-Westboro member banished for heterosexual tendencies, the crew is…

…small, and comprised almost exclusively of members of the family of the pastor, Fred Phelps. Nine of his thirteen children and their children made up the majority of the congregation, which was about sixty or seventy people altogether.

Drain, Lauren (2013-03-05). Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Fred Phelps, the patriarch, is now in his mid-eighties. Blogger Pam Spaulding calls him, The Rotting Cryptkeeper, which is harsh. His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper is the group’s spokeswoman. She is very smart, well-spoken and media-savvy. She runs the group’s law firm, as Fred was disbarred years ago. They are good with money, putting their kids to work early, encouraging education, tithing, suing people.

What motivates them to run around the country disgracing themselves?

For the kids inside the cult, it can be fun…

The high we got from picketing took over. “You are going to hell! You are all fag enablers!” we hollered over one another. “We are the only true patriots,” I added. “If you people were really patriotic and religious, you would be standing with us holding signs.” I told them that God mocked their calamities, and good Christians were supposed to warn nations against sin. “Thank God for September 11!” I yelled, the strongest insult to the sinners and the one most certain to get a rise out of the people within earshot. I looked at Megan, Shirley’s oldest daughter. She had the same fiendishly excited look on her face that I did. All of us were brimming with passion. We quickly became the center of attention, and we reveled in it . Our objective was to stir up as much controversy and animosity as we could in the four hours our permit allowed us.

Drain, Lauren (2013-03-05). Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

More on Lauren Drain is here.
Although Ms. Drain apologizes in the final chapters of her memoir for the hurt she caused, something still seems to be missing. But, like Patty Hearst, she could be said to be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, and her honesty about her experience gives valuable inside information.

Westboro loves attention, and uses media with sophistication. A lot of funny and creative satires of their message can be seen on You Tube. But Westboro loves that too because it’s all about publicity.

A Jesus tactic worth considering is this approach–
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44

I am not myself a Christian, but there’s some non-religious reasons that this tactic might be effective. One is that people can be much more evil in groups, but groups are made up of people. You never know whose faith is starting to crack. It might need just a chance encounter to shatter it completely. Several young people have fled Westboro church, the next Lauren Drain may be getting ready to break away.

The journalist, Donald Woods, was once an arrogant young racist in Apartheid South Africa. He writes in his memoir, ‘Asking for Trouble’ that a look and gentle questioning from one of his professors set him on a path to reporting the life and martyrdom of Steve Biko— a courageous work that put his family at risk and forced him to flee the country.

Another reason to choose nonviolence is that answering hate with kindness robs Westboro of the kind of manic show they are hoping to stage.

I think most Rhode Islanders will be too busy to give Westboro much attention– I have to work that day so I’ll miss the show.

But those who do respond to their provocation have to choose what seems best. I’m proud of Rhode Island, especially proud that we have joined the rest of New England in marriage equality. We are winning. The real world of choices and possibilities will continue to lure people out of the self-imposed prison of cult life. Just maybe, we might convert one.

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