The silent NO.

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


4 Responses

  1. Thank you Revs. Rebecca, Mark and Amy. As a Jew whose vocation and many avocations have me spending a good deal of my time in Montpelier my heart is warmed by your comments. I cannot confront this hate safely. I have faced raw anti-semitism and encountered unmitigated homophobia. My experience with both of your churches is that I have experienced love, patience, compassion and understanding. I am grateful for this. Hate is difficult to confront. Thank you for speaking out against it. I will wear orange tomorrow (I don’t own rainbow colors) to symbolize the bright light of love and understanding that I experience in Montpelier daily from people of many religious backgrounds. I look forward to these folks going back to from wherever they come. Their attitudes and behavior is not welcome in Montpelier. Thank you for your statement and for taking a stand when I cannot.
    Randy Gravitz

    • You are of course welcome, Randy. As I said on the phone, it is our responsibility, when we can lovingly do so, to speak, write, or stand against those who do violence and live out of hate. I am honored to stand on behalf of those who are threatened or made vulnerable by these folks, and know that in many ways, there are so many others who stand for me when I am threatened and vulnerable.

      The quote we were talking about is by Marin Niemoller, and his original words (often quoted differently) were:

      “When the Nazis came for the communists,
      I remained silent;
      I was not a communist.

      When they locked up the social democrats,
      I remained silent;
      I was not a social democrat.

      When they came for the trade unionists,
      I did not speak out;
      I was not a trade unionist.

      When they came for the Jews,
      I remained silent;
      I wasn’t a Jew.

      When they came for me,
      there was no one left to speak out.”

  2. Becca, as a fellow Vermonter I just want to say THANK YOU.

    • You’re welcome, Tracy, and that *you* for your support. It is wonderful to hear from all who support love and peace.


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