Thursday, May 5, 2011

Westboro Baptist is Coming to Savannah

In a couple of weeks Fred Phelps, his family, and his church will be visiting our beautiful city. Sadly, we all know that Westboro Baptist Church does not travel anywhere to enjoy the scenery.  Instead, they protest various things with an open message of hatred. I'm sure you've seen them on the news before.

As for Savannah, I have no idea why Westboro Baptist has chosen this city.  We're not that big or significant. Maybe it's because Savannah is both a tourist destination and a military town.  Regardless, Westboro is coming with their protests. Predictably, all sorts of counter protests are planned as well.

As a follower of Christ, I have a responsibility to respond to this situation in a God-glorifying manner.  The difficulty is knowing what that looks like. My guess is that Christians in our city will have differences of opinion on how best to react. I'm still thinking through the matter.

It would be great if we could have a positive discussion with the folks from Westboro Baptist.  Based on what I've seen in the past, they have no intention of doing this.  Rather, they seem to want as much attention as possible. They also appear to try to stir up angry and even violent responses from onlookers. Frankly, I wish the entire city would completely ignore them, including the news stations (that's not going to happen).

I have some Christian friends who are going to take part in counter protests. That's fine for them; I hope it goes well. I won't be there.

I plan to do three things in response to the Westboro visit. First, I'm going to continue to pray about it. My hope is that God will spare our city any violence. I wish He would convict many people's hearts about their sin and need for Him - both the Westboro members and residents of Savannah. Second, I'm going to use this opportunity for discussions that I don't normally have. Just yesterday I was able to talk about this with co-workers. Third, I plan to actively ignore the Westboro protests. I'll follow the events online; however, I'm not going to add to the circus-like atmosphere at any of their protest sites. That's what they want. I won't play into their hands.

I ask for your prayers and wisdom for this situation. On the surface it seems that nothing good can come from this. God, however, can do anything. Let's pray that He somehow uses this Westboro visit for His own glory. Thanks.

Also, I'd like to know how you would respond if Westboro visited your city or town. What do you think is a wise course of action?


Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I just learned about these folks. It's heartbreaking that they would twist God's message to bring hatred. And of course some will say they represent all Christians. I will pray for you guys in Savannah. I don't think I would show up at all. If I did, I'd want to present the truth strongly- with signs that say, "Judge not lest you be judged" on them and "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." "God so loved the world... He gave His only Son. Jesus." Tough situation- maybe create a human barricade to protect those they plan to attack...

esztertun said...

My reaction would be the same as yours.

That God would be glorified and His love flow through us, is for sure our duty. Proverbs warns us against trying to relate to these types, Whether they are professing Christianity or not should make no difference. I guess it would be right to be ready to show His love to those hurt by them; but how to postion ourselves for this is another question. Probably only His Spirit could show us that.
I'll pray as you requested.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I had another thought- the people lined up in front of the Westboro Baptists could sing, "They'll know we are Christians by our love." With prayer this could make a huge statement. Everyone has a right to free speech :)

Jason_73 said...

The is a free documentary on-line called "the most hated family in America" where a british journalist stays with the Phelps family for an extended period. It is insightful and tragic...

Also, Ed Stetzer has an article on his blog about what they did when their church was protested.

Interesting times!

jrpv said...


Free Speech, Cults and Evil – Part I

American Christians are blessed with freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Setting aside how such blessings might lead to our "over-comfort," presumption, even evangelical indolence, how should we deal with two current news topics:
• social reaction to the death of a terrorist who lead a cult, and
• social reaction to the visit to our area of a cult which seeks to terrorize, of all people, those grieving at funerals.
Admittedly, the scope of actions (and purposes and means) differ markedly - the Westboro fanatics do not physically destroy people and property as the Al-Qaeda fanatics do. The Westboro fanatics most prominently use (abuse) protest (as related to Constitutionally-guaranteed free assembly and free speech), whereas no tactic is beyond Al-Qaeda fanatics in accomplishing their ends (regardless of law).

What HAVE the fanatics in common? Al-Qaeda fanatics do not favor for Islam or for Muslims, Arabic or otherwise; the Westboro fanatics in Kansas (as well as Koran burners in Florida) do no favor for Christians or for the United States. Among other matters (including promotion of hate), the fanatics of both stripes purport to represent the one true God. What have WE in common with both those groups of fanatics? We, although humbly I hope, purport to represent the one true God, and we too do so in our actions (and, Lord help us, in our hearts). Our appropriate approach, that which has been called in the past, "putting on the spectacles of Jesus" (in one sense), has, in recent memory, been expressed as WWJD - What would Jesus do? It's easy to say that He certainly would not have us attempting to destroy, physically or emotionally, people who have not sought to harm us (setting aside the word "innocent" because of its theological overtones). To do so is evil, does not conform to His will.

jrpv said...

Free Speech, Cults and Evil – Part II

One year in the mid-1980s, the duty to lead the community Thanksgiving church service in the Islands area, east of Savannah, fell to the associate pastor of a Methodist church. His brave sermon for that service concerned, in part, whether anyone is truly lost prior to death - he contrasted two of God's creatures, two men who had been created in His image: Saint Paul, and ... Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi! What has God's great evangelist to do with Libya's cruel dictator? Paul persecuted, Gaddafi persecutes still. Paul converted, and died a saved man; while living, a repentant, converted and forgiven Gadaffi is still POSSIBLE, however remotely. The pastor prayed for that conversion then, and decades later, we should pray for that conversion now, even while international forces and those whom he persecuted seek to end his persecution, and perhaps end his life. The likelihood of such a conversion, howevermuch it seems infinitesimal, is worth our prayer, and such a conversion is not impossible to Him.

WWJD? What DID Jesus do?
• Jesus prayed for His enemies - we should pray for the lost, even for evil leaders of cults (and governments), foreign and domestic, especially for such leaders.
• Jesus spoke against evil. Although He participated in social activities, he protested at the temple alone, His confrontation with self-righteous religious authorities was not as part of a group. Our protest, for example, of the murder of unborn babies, as a part of His body is appropriate (while murder of baby murderers is vigilantism, or war, and a separate topic). The decision to counter-protest is, of course, a weighted one - does it help to truly counter or does it help to somehow promote the evil perpetrated by the cult - I tend to the latter, but each Christian will make his own judgment about that, and we pray for wisdom in that decision.
• Jesus engaged sinners as a group through sermons and He engaged sinners individually. God engages us sinners in His Word. Not-yet deceased evil leaders of cults (and governments) can still be engaged, and Pope Benedict XVI, among others, continues to appeal to Gadaffi to end his persecution of his own people. Will God be glorified by the engagement and repentance of a still-living cult leader who does evil (or of a secular dictator who does evil)? In Paul's case, He was indeed; in Pakistan recently there was no conversion prior to that leader's killing. In Libya, there is still time! In Kansas, there is still time! So far.

May God Bless You and Alice and Your Family,

Bob ><>

Aussie John said...


I think you are wise in your statement,"I plan to actively ignore the Westboro protests".

It's a pity that the media cannot be convinced to ignore them as well, but the wider community of Christians could, if they put their minds hearts and to it.

Public protests, and even violence, against Westboro, is the sort of publicity they crave.

Eric said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. This is certainly a very difficult situation. I take hope in the fact that God is sovereign. I just hope the gospel doesn't get a "black eye" during the Westboro visit. Pray for some good to come from this.