I don’t know when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests. It seems like I have always been aware of them. What I do know is that I just learned they will be in my area. According to a local ministers’ group, they are planning on picketing a couple local churches. Here’s is the flyer they are apparently putting out to notify people of this planned picketing:
The person who made the group aware of Westboro’s presence in our area leads an interfaith group. Not an interdenominational group (of group of people from different Christian denominations) but an interfaith group (a group of people from different faiths). He says he is “envisioning a world of interfaith peace”, and he signs his emails with greetings from several faiths (i.e., “Shalom, Peace, Salaam, Om Shanti, Solh, Amani” etc.).
As I read the email about this situation last night, I felt conflicted. I obviously don’t side with Westboro Baptist. I don’t want to attack them (I think attacking anyone, no matter how deserving, is wrong), and I probably won’t participate in the counter-protests being organized (I think protesting is lowly, a “weapon of the world” rather than a tool of Christ; 2 Corinthians 10), but I don’t want to be consider of them, on their side. I don’t want to be considered on the side of the interfaith group either, though. “Interfaith peace” sounds good on the surface; if by “interfaith peace” or “coexist” you mean not killing or hating people of other faiths, then I’m all for it, but if you mean (as I largely suspect most do) not affirming your own faith or taking it that seriously, then I’m not. In fact, when I see a list of greetings such as the one this interfaith person signs his emails with, I’m reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:
So I find myself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. I find myself pulled between two extremes, both of which are certain they are correct and both of which, I assume, think I’m incorrect in some way. I know Westboro Baptist thinks I’m incorrect; according to a fellow minister, they picketed my denominations annual gathering in Cincinnati, holding signs that said, “Your pastor is a whore.” So I don’t have to imagine what their opinion of me is. I do imagine the interfaith person likewise thinks I am seriously wrong in some way; he might not call me a whore, but he probably calls me “narrow”, “bigoted”, “closed-minded”, etc because I believe that Jesus is who and what He said He was: the only way to the only God.
And I can live with that, I suppose. I have been living with it all my life in one way or another. I’ve always been aware that there are people who find my faith or my way of expressing my faith wrong in one way or another, and I’ve always been told I just have to deal with that.
If I could make a wish, though, or, even better, if I could speak some sanity into the insanity I see coming into my community in the next couple of days, it would be for those people on these extremes to see that I am reacting to Jesus. The things I do (many of them, anyway, possibly even most of them) I do in reaction to Jesus and the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus laid out. That, I believe, is the basis of discipleship (as I already showed here). And that is undeniably what you find in me. I may not be reacting to Jesus perfectly (I don’t know anyone who does). I may not be reacting to Jesus as either Westboro or the interfaith group thinks (rightly or wrongly) I should be. But I am reacting to Jesus. The decisions I make every day…make that every hour of every day…are influenced by Jesus, by what I think Jesus would want me to do. Jingoistic though it may be, I truly am a WWJD guy.
I believe that makes me a disciple. An imperfect disciple to be sure. A different kind of disciple or at least different-looking disciple than some others. But a disciple nonetheless.
I’d like to think the same is true of Westboro. I’d like to think the same is true of the interfaith group. I’d like to think the same is true of both these extremes and every other extreme I encounter. It may not be true of them; I understand that; I know that there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among us, “deceitful workman” who are not genuine followers. But I’d like to think it is. I’d like to think that most of the followers of Jesus who differ from me in one way or another are WWJD people, influenced by Jesus, reacting to Jesus, true disciples by this measurable definition.
And if we all recognized that about each other, wouldn’t there be more respect? Wouldn’t there be less protests and counter-protests, less accusations, less suspicions, less attacks? Wouldn’t there be less extremes? I think there would be. I think there should be.