Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Westboro Baptist, Free Speech, and Theology

Wednesday after the First Sunday in Lent
March 16, 2011

The Lord be with you

On March 2, Westboro Baptist of Topeka, Kansas, won its Free Speech case in the Supreme Court. Westboro Baptist is a small independent Baptist Church whose membership is all (or at least almost all) drawn from the family of their preacher, Fred Phelps. They have protested at over 600 funerals for fallen soldiers. It is their position that the death of our soldiers is due to our country’s current “politically-correct” attitudes towards homosexuals.

I think the decision of the Supreme Court is in keeping with current understandings of the right to free speech in our country. If the display of exceptionally vile and profane pictures of my Lord Jesus is protected by the constitution, then certainly the actions and signs of the Westboro Baptist group is as well.

I also think that much of the reaction to this group is driven by emotion, and not clear thinking. This response is fueled by the media. In one editorial I found on line by Gary Graham, the following adjectives were used in describing Westboro Baptist and their actions: “horrible,” “odious,” “hate-filled,” vile,” “bigotry,” “so-called ‘content,’” “hatemongers,” and so on. With such words peppering his article, it is clear that Graham isn’t seeking to inform but to generate a negative emotional reaction in reference to Westboro Baptist. Actually, I don’t think the media has to try so hard to get people to emotionally reject this group’s views, but I may be wrong.

The problem is that emotions are fickle. Those who speak for Christ, and I do not include Fred Phelps in that group, should speak clearly on whether or not the Westboro theology is reflected in the Bible. If we know what the Bible says, then we are forearmed against the charm of charismatic but misguided speakers.

As I understand it, the basic premise of the Westboro Baptist theology is that God is punishing us for our sins, specifically tolerance of homosexuals (or perhaps advocacy of homosexual behavior). The death of our soldiers is at least one mark of that punishment.

Much of what I have written in my two posts on Disasters and Theology (part 1, part 2) directly applies to this thinking. In short, it is not supported by the scriptures.

It is also not supported by simple logic. In 1941 the USA entered World War II when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. At that time America had its most “churched” generation ever. Culturally homosexuality, as well as many other behaviors that are currently culturally condoned but are opposed to the will of God, was not accepted. In spite of this 416,800 American military personal died in that conflict. If the Westboro Baptist theology was accurate, our men should have walked through that war virtually untouched.

There is a natural result of countries being at war: soldiers die. There death is not divine retribution. It is the result of the sins that keep us from getting along with our fellow man. Such things like greed, pride, hatred, fear, and the like, are the building blocks of war. In other words, it is our own fault, not God’s punishment.

Westboro Baptist’s theology and actions are wrong, but calling them names simply makes us sink to their level. As believers in Christ, our best approach to groups like this is to be able to calmly explain this. I feel, if you only have a short time to talk to someone, the best single point to bring out is that our punishment for our sins was taken by Jesus on the cross. To say God is punishing us for our sins is to say Jesus’ sacrifice was incomplete. But, you can read about that, and more, in my posts on Disasters and Theology.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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