The Westboro Baptist Church gives me hope.
I’m pretty sure that bringing feelings of hope, comfort, and even pride to a kinky, polyamorous, faggy, pagan isn’t exactly their mission in the world, but they do anyway. Oh, well.
I know that their very name alone fills most people, particularly queer/LGBT people, with a welter of turbulent emotions. Fear, hate, disgust, and anger are probably high on the list for most readers of Notes From a Barking Shaman. I am hardly a fan of their message or modus operandi myself.
But for all vileness of their methods, and I suspect their hearts, the Westboro Baptist Church also represents what is good about this country. There may be a few dank corners of this nation where you’ll find people who support the WBC, but the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum find their behavior reprehensible. Even those perfectly willing to turn the other cheek at anti-LGBT hatred have a harder time with vicious protests of military funerals, or hate and profanity filled signs at their children’s schools. Despite this overwhelming disapproval, the activities of the Wesboro Baptist Church continue with little impediment.
And that’s a very good thing for us queers, pagans, and other minorities in American society.
No image in today’s media so visibly captures the constitutional freedoms enjoyed in this country as the repugnant scum from the Westboro Baptist Church protesting with their vile signs. Nobody wants the WBC in their town, but the church members move freely, preaching their hateful message throughout the nation. It is beyond absurd to think that any jurist on the Supreme Court approves of the WBC protesting at military funerals, yet the their right to do so was upheld in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.
How can that bring anything but hope and comfort to folk like me?
In a day when the political rhetoric around issues like Same Sex Marriage increasingly focuses on the “right” of the majority to decide who is worthy of equality or justice, seeing that the law still protects people as despised and despicable as the WBC can only bring hope.
With the PATRIOT ACT, illegal wiretapping, rampant use of CCTV cameras, no-knock warrants, and police forces acting as extensions of the CIA in minority communities, representing only a fraction of the threats to American freedom in the post 9/11 age, the Westboro Baptist Church serves as visible reminder that we have not yet shredded the entire Bill of Rights.
There are many countries where the kind of rhetoric spouted by Fred Phelps and his church could land someone in prison. But when you stifle one kind of dangerous idea, shut down one brand of intellectual outlaw, free discourse itself suffers. When I look at the Westboro Baptist Church, I can’t help but feel proud to live in the rare country whose foundational document protects the exchange of even the most unpopular ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, I support taking steps to prevent pastors and preachers from actively inciting their followers to violence. However, the WBC doesn’t preach violence against any of their myriad targeted groups. They grotesquely celebrate when violence comes unbidden, and they preach eternal suffering at the hands of a wrathful god, but they do not encourage people to take violent action against anyone. In fact, their website actively discourages violence.
As unpopular an idea as this may be, I believe that any group engaged in social or political protest should study certain elements of the WBC’s operations. Fred Phelps, himself a disbarred civil rights lawyer, knows exactlythe limits of the law regarding his church’s protest activities and has ensured that while his people walk right up to those limits, they do not cross them. The internet is full of photographs of counter protesters standing right besides WBC protesters holding signs like “fuck this guy” or turning their hateful message into a humorous and supportive message about LGBT people. The fact that Westboro Baptist Church members have steadfastly resisted for decades the temptation to respond in a way that could cross the line demarcated by the law, is as admirable as it is frustrating.
I believe that this is a dangerous time for sexual and religious minorities in this country. Despite historic gains in social and legal recognition, the tide could easily turn against us in the next few years. In being a visual embodiment of the protected rights of the minority, The Westboro Baptist Church serves as a beacon of hope and reassurance for those that they hate the most.
And if that delicious little irony doesn’t just bring a smile to this pagan, kinky, poly, queer boy’s face…