Tomorrow is the day that Montpelier anticipates the arrival of the Westboro Baptist Church picketers, and our local paper is abuzz with letters to the editor and articles arguing for various responses (in addition to the GLAD donation program, which you can read about on my blog or visit at facebook here to learn about participating, and about which the paper printed an article on Sunday). While most people agree that the WBC craves attention and counter-protests to fuel their fire, and that we shouldn’t give them what they seek, there’s some difference of opinion about how to say NO to their message and methods. Do we remain silent? Do we wear a special color? Do we form human shields at the statehouse and city hall? Do we defy the wishes of the city managers and the school administrators and set foot on High School property?
My plan for tomorrow is now this: I will dress in my clerical collar and something with a rainbow. I will park at my church and walk downtown to near the high school. I will stay at a distance unless it looks like there is a need for a human shield or a person to talk to, and then I think my concern for doing the loving thing will overcome my respect for the rules set forth by the administration of the school and the city. My goal– to be a person nearby, offering love and compassion, and modeling a peaceful and silent alternative to both the WBC picketers and any counter-yelling. I’ll follow them to the capitol and to city hall, and probably pick out a nice, visible, but slightly distant bench from which to observe or approach as needed. I plan to approach my fellow Montpelierites only, not to engage and waste my breath on the hate group.
Although I’m sorely tempted to bring a set of speakers for my iPhone and blast the entirety of my Indigo Girls playlist. Maybe I’ll just stick the earbuds deep in my ears, so even I don’t need to hear the bile.
And I’ll stand by what I co-wrote with my colleagues, our letter to the editor (short version), published in the Argus. Hopefully, we’ll get the longer version in another local paper without the word limit!
Time Argus article published Aug 29, 2009
Our silence shouts ‘No’
As three Montpelier clergy, we speak for ourselves by saying, “No.” No to the messages of the Westboro Baptist Church. No to their need to affront. No to targeting high school students. No to their intolerance of people who are gay, lesbian or Jewish or who think differently. No to the hatred and violence in their hearts and on their signs. No to their understanding of God, church and following Jesus.
We think they are misguided, misdirected and mistaken. They are misguided by their assumptions about the Bible, misdirected in using abuse, and mistaken about the meaning of “Christian” and “church.”
The Westboro Baptist Church is an extremist fringe group. Even those who feel homosexuality is wrong do not agree with what the Westboro Baptist members say or how they say it. They do not typify Christians any more than they typify Americans.
We believe that God is transcendent love holding us in love and loving us into being our best self, despite our imperfections. We hold that Christians are people who seek God by following the way Jesus lived, trusting him as our guide to God. We believe a church is a community of people who lean on each other to make their faith journey stronger, better and more joyful. We conclude that being a Christian is not about one’s sexual orientation, and certainly not about attacking high school students and bystanders with hate speech. It is about loving God and loving God in neighbor, self and creation.
Engaging a 2-year-old’s tantrum only begets more tantrums. We do not want to give the Westboro Baptist Church what they want: negative attention and a chance to feel persecuted and therefore more Christ-like. We do not want Montpelier to hear our silence and mistake it for agreement. We do not agree.
The Clergy Consortium of Trinity and Bethany Churches
The Revs. Rebecca Clark, Mark Pitton and Amy Pitton