For my J385 Communications Law class, we’ve been paying attention to the recent Supreme Court case, Snyder vs. Phelps, which began this morning. It’s an issue that revolves around the 1st Amendment and whether or not the protests conducted by Westboro Baptist Church are abusing this right. Ultimately, in the specific case between Snyder and Phelps, they’re protected by the 1st Amendment, but what I cannot get past is how annoying the whole issue is.
As a follower of Christ, actions like the Phelps family or Westboro Baptist Church protesting at military funerals with messages like “God Hates You” or “God Loves Toe-Tags” is appalling and one of the greatest perversions of the Bible and of true Christianity. Their purpose behind their protests is to get the nation to repent of their sins, citing the numerous American casualties as evidence of God’s punishment upon the United States for being such a sinful and homosexual nation. Reading how they’ve tried to justify their actions and the arguments they have made, it is obvious that they have completely forsaken the cross of Christ. By telling the nation of America that we’re being punished for our sins overlooks who took our punishment: Jesus.
Instead of starting with the cross and drawing people nearer to God through heartfelt encouragement, they have overlooked the cross, implying that salvation is determined by one’s righteous actions, and have advanced this message through hate-filled messages, purposely aggravating the funeral-goers, like the Snyder family. Instead of empathizing with the mourners, Westboro Baptist Church has chastised them and saying that their son or daughter died because God is pouring out His wrath. And yet they forget that God has already poured out His wrath… on Jesus.
According to the Constitution, the Phelps family and fellow funeral-protesters has committed no violation of law. But according to the truths of Jesus, according to the examples set by Jesus, and according to the cross of Jesus, they have erred deeply. I cannot pretend that I am somehow better than the Phelps family or members of the Westboro Baptist Church because I’m not. I am just as sinful. But I believe therein lies the difference; I’ve admitted my sins and thereby associated myself with everyone else in the world, instead of sitting upon some imaginary throne of religious self-righteousness. Jesus associated with the worst of sinners, the ugliest of the ugly, the smelliest of the smelly, and asks us to do the same if we want to live for God. By holding up signs of “God’s Judgment,” the partakers in the funeral protests have failed to follow Jesus’ commandments.
It seems rather obvious to me that the Phelps family is quick to understand and utilize the American laws, and yet they attack the American people who helped create and defend those laws – even the ones who bled and died to protect those laws. The very right to free speech that the Westboro Baptist Church has enthusiastically practiced would not exist today without the American soldiers – the very people they have protested against and regarded as partakers in the actions and beliefs of a sinful nation. Of course, though, they wouldn’t consider that fact; by merely defending fellow American citizens, in their eyes, I would be regarded as a sinful, Godless person who has caused God’s wrath to overflow on American soldiers. Such a criticism of the actions of Westboro Baptist Church would never be honestly considered by the members.
I also think that the more they enthusiastically practice their right to speak freely and protest wherever they want to, someone somewhere along the lines will eventually start exercising their right to bear arms. If they aren’t careful, they might provoke the American people to respond in such a way that might cause physical harm to themselves and possibly others. I certainly do not want to read that headline about the dozens of people gunned down at a funeral in response to a protest. This is why I find it important and absolutely critical that Christians not only voice their disagreement with the beliefs and actions of Westboro Baptist Church, but to take action themselves; to counter the hateful protests with actions that display Christ’s love instead of “God’s wrath.”
I don’t have anything in mind of what one could do; I’m merely saying we ought to pay attention for the opportunities. They’re out there; we just have to be alert and ready to move. These protests will continue to happen, continue to enrage mourners at funerals, and continue to cause frustration to judicial systems across the country. And for followers of Jesus, they – amongst others like them – will continue to be thorns in our sides. But what’s important for us to do is be sure we are distinguishing what is Jesus’ agenda and what are our own religious agendas. To do that, we must be love in action; we must strain and struggled – even against our own comfort zones – to display the heart of Jesus. It isn’t easy and contrasting events like the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests will always be frustrating, but for the time being, it’s our lot in life.