Recently Olympia was graced with the presence of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a group even the Ku Klux Klan has referred to as “hatemongers.”
The title certainly fits. The church is famous for their picketing and hate speech. They run websites such as godhatesfags.com and www.godhatesamerica.com and have garnered widespread hatred with their picketing of soldiers’ funerals with signs stating “god hates fags” or “Soldiers die 4 fag marriage.”
Anti-hate groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League denounced the church. The United Kingdonheir barred church members from entering. A national law now bans protests within 300 feet of a cemetery during a funeral. It’s safe to say they are one of the most hated groups in America.
The irony to all of this is that the church has brought together people and groups who wouldn’t normally agree on almost anything. Political commentators Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly, two people who are at practically polar opposites of the political spectrum, have both individually condemned the church and their leader Fred Phelps.
Motorcycle gang Patriot Guard Riders have begun following WBC members trying to picket soldiers’ funerals. They often block the members from view of the funeral and drown out their chants with song or by revving their engines.
Vigilante group Anonymous has taken control of one of their domains; rock band Foo Fighters organized an impromptu performance mocking picketers; and Kevin Smith even based his film “Red State” on the church.
In the wake of WBC visiting Olympia, many Christians have spoken out and distanced themselves from their violent rhetoric. It’s understandable that moderate members of a group would want to distance themselves from the more radical members of that group, but at times the Christian apologism can become somewhat ridiculous. The “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy is one of the more common tactics I’ve seen used. This typically consists of a Christian claiming members of WBC aren’t true Christians.
While it’s certainly fair to say many Christians don’t share WBC’s view on homosexuality, that in no way changes the fact they are Christians. They base their statements on passages in the Bible which condemn homosexuality. These same passages have been used for years by opponents of gay rights as justification for their hatred.
It’s undeniable while many religious institutions lack the blatant hatred of WBC, organized religion is still one of the greatest opponents to gay rights. Religions run camps to attempt to turn gay people straight; they fund anti-gay-marriage campaigns; they make gay people feel unsafe and afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, or even drive them to suicide.
Much of this is done under the guise of keeping marriage sacred, which is of course fallacious, as marriage is a custom that predates religious institutions by a good margin.
While the church is an example of blatant bigotry, subtle bigotry is much more common and much more widespread. By appearing so over the top and ridiculous, it makes this more subtle bigotry seem almost reasonable.
That is the greatest danger WBC poses. While their picketing and websites are filled with hatred, the near universal disdain shown towards them can help soften the blow. Their true danger is much more subtle. Just as Malcolm X provided an extremist viewpoint which made Martin Luther King’s views seem more acceptable, so too does it provide such an over-the-top spectacle even people who are strongly bigoted against gays can compare themselves to WBC and seem almost nice by contrast.
It is important to remember bigotry is bigotry, no matter how it is presented. While the church seems ridiculous compared to those currently trying to stop gay marriage in Washington, the core of their message is the same.