January 12, 2011

They're At It Again

Well, the Westboro group has made headlines again, this time in Tuscon, attempting to protest the funerals of the victim's from Saturday's shooting.

Every time these people pop up, the same conversations happen. How can they do this? How does someone believe these things? Why doesn't The Baptist Church shut this church down?

Well, today, we're going to take some time to answer some of those questions.

Fair warning: this is a long one. (Of course it is, it's me.) But there really isn't a way to completely and accurately discuss this any more briefly. At least, this is the best I could do. But I think it's too important to fudge words when clarity is the most important thing.

First, I want to get one big one out of the way: Why doesn't "The Baptist Church" do something about these people?

First of all, let's clarify what "The Baptist Church" means. I guess it's not widely known that there are different kinds of Baptist churches: Free Will Baptist, Full Gospel Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Independent Baptist and Southern Baptist. There may even be more I don't know about. I'm not going to get into all the differences among them here.

The Westboro group classifies itself as a Southern Baptist church. I am Southern Baptist. So I have a little insight into what exactly that means.

The Southern Baptist denomination was designed to function in a very autonomous way; that is, every individual congregation functions individually, and every individual within that congregation functions individually. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is the belief that each individual and each church is ultimately under authority to God, as based on the model in the New Testament. There was no governing authority for the multiple churches in the New Testament era. Even Paul, who counseled the churches in his letters, was not a hierarchical authority figure over them.

In that model, Southern Baptist churches are able to function independently on a day-to-day basis. However, they join the Southern Baptist Convention in order to pool resources for ministry and missions. Other than that, it's every group operating as best they see fit. All a group as to do to self-identify as a Southern Baptist church is donate any amount to the SBC.

Which is why the SBC has no authority or even mechanism for going in and "shutting down" Westboro. There's just no way to reasonable do it. And for that matter, Westboro doesn't even consider itself affiliated with the SBC. They protest the SBC and SBC churches. But I'm jumping ahead here.

The point is, this is a group that is self-identifying as a Southern Baptist church when there is no evidence they are in fact a Southern Baptist church, or a church of any kind, except for tax purposes. Which leads to the second point.....

Why does Westboro claim to be a church? Well, we've already seen why they would claim to be an SBC church - total autonomy. They can literally say and do whatever they want and there is no religious hierarchy in place to shut them down. Personally, I believe that is a good thing, but then, that's why I'm Southern Baptist. I believe that individuals and groups should have the right to freely, peaceably express themselves and are ultimately accountable only to God.

But why claim to be a "church" at all? My first instinct would be that the core group does think of themselves as religious - the same way jihadists think of themselves as religious in their actions. But primarily it falls into two reasons: reputation and money.

First, let's talk about the money. As a political activist group, they would be responsible for all kinds of tax and donation reporting associated with political speech. And if you've ever been involved in a campaign, like really involved, you know what a headache that can be. However, by identifying themselves as a church, they can file under tax-exempt status.

As far as reputation goes, I mean PR. Because there are a lot of crazy political protest groups out there (Hello, Code Pink!). But by self-identifying as a church, they are hoping to attain a level of legitimacy that those other groups wouldn't, because America is still a pretty religious culture, especially compared to most other Western countries right now. Therefore a "Pastor" and a "Church" saying controversial things gets more air time than just another random protest group.

And anyway, what political group would they identify with? I even saw someone the other day who tried to link these nuts to the TEA party. How absolutely absurd (not to mention stupid). Their politics are all over the map. Just look at this collection of protest signs:

There's no consistency there, no coherent worldview. Just ranting. It's also important to point out that the Westboro group is primarily populated by a single family and other crazies who have latched onto them. Just throwing that in there.

But there's another, larger reason why, I believe, they are classified as a church. They are literally doing the work of the Devil.

Stay with me here.

There is nothing Satan would love more than for this to be the image the world as of followers of Christ:

So they have the world's help for clinging to that "church" moniker. Everyone calls them Westboro Baptist Church, or even just Westboro Church, when there is nothing church-like about them. And this is the real problem. As long as we continue letting them define the narrative by which we discuss them, we give them control.

So please, whenever you reference these people, don't give them what they want: legitimacy, control, power over the flow of information. Call them what they are. Kooks. A cult. Even just a group. But don't call them a church. It perpetuates the lie.

And yeah, because I know they watch the airwaves and the internet, I know they may very likely stumble across this at some point. But considering I've said harsher words about people who like to issue fatwas, these people are more laughable than scary. That, and I've already been a subject of their protests before. Well, no, not me specifically. But they came to my church once when I was in college and protested as we drove in for Sunday morning service. Why? Because Oklahoma became the first state to protect funerals from protests. The lawmaker who drafted the legislation went to my church.

It was a bizarre experience. On one side of the road, the Westboro Nuts. On our church's lawn counter-protesting were groups like Freedom Riders, Association of American Communists, GLAAD, and other such disparate groups that would never in a million years align themselves with our church for anything. It was a bizarre day.


  1. my only comment is about the CHILDREN in these photos...the FUTURE OF AMERICA?!?!? I just think it's sad sad sad!

  2. RAWR. It gets my blood boiling just seeing those pictures. everytime I see it, it never fails.

  3. Oh my gosh. Brings me to tears. I had no idea that it was this bad. And most of the people in the photos are KIDS!? Soooo sad.

  4. I just can't stand those guys. I can't understand them at all!

  5. I was just doing research on them the other day when my friend mentioned them protesting the funerals in AZ, its terrible. I agree with you though 100% they are working for Satan.

  6. Gah! This makes me so angry and sad all at the same time. Thanks for taking the time to write about it - I agree with you and appreciate your thoughts/opinions!

  7. I came to your blog through a friend. I completely agree with you on all accounts. These people are crazy. And I've experienced first hand what they do. They protested my high school for having a gay/straight alliance club. I never call them the Westboro Chuch. They are always "those Westboro people" or some other discription. I refuse to call them a church.

  8. They definitely get more air time because they label themselves as a church. I just hope most rational people know that true followers of Christ would NEVER act like them.

  9. Like some of the other commentors, I am aghast at the children holding the signs. And the smile each person has on their face.

    It breaks my heart. All of it.

  10. I really hate that they label themselves a church. They are against everything Jesus stood for. It's horrible.

  11. Another great post!

    I hate that these people are even able to call themselves a church. I'm afraid this they type of thing that stops people from being Christians or even want to be involved with churches. They see all of these contradictions and want nothing to do with it.

    The saddest part of the whole thing is seeing those children. I just can't imagine how much they have been brainwashed and wonder what their lives will end up being like.

  12. They make me sick. Seriously. Great breakdown though lady, as always.


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