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God's Work in the Westboro Baptist Church

You've probably heard of the Westboro Baptist Church, the small and stridently hateful anti-gay congregation from Kansas that tends to picket anything that will get them attention. In recent years, Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of church pastor Fred Phelps, gave interviews and was active on social media supporting the church's mission. But yesterday, news broke that she and her sister Grace have left the church. These two pieces, one an interview with Phelps-Roper since her departure and one a joint statement she and her sister have made, are worth your time.

I am completely fascinated by this. First of all, for obvious reasons; as a person of faith myself, I believe that the WBC is going about their Christian faith the wrong way, and hearing that someone who was raised in that church now agrees with me is satisfying. But beyond that, I found myself immediately sympathetic towards Megan after reading those pieces, and also immediately convinced that this was an important turn of events that was worth commenting on in a broader forum.

On the surface, this isn't really worth my time. The WBC doesn't deserve any more attention than they already get for a group of less than 100 people who spew hatred in wildly inappropriate venues. And having one of their fold renounce their hateful message and leave should be the expected course of events, right? Fringe hate groups are fringe for a reason; their beliefs are antithetical to normal human behavior for living in a peaceful society. We should just be nodding to ourselves that humanity is making forward progress, that a hate group is one step closer to going away, and moving on with our lives.

But this keeps drawing me in. One of the reasons why is the detail that Phelps-Roper shares about the church and their beliefs. She says that she regrets hurting people, that "[t]hat was never our intention. We thought we were doing good. We thought it was the only way to do good." This statement is difficult to believe given the obvious vitriolic quality of the WBC's rhetoric. But more comments about how church members are taught to distrust their feelings and that human nature is inherently completely sinful make the statement comprehensible. Disassociating one's self from one's own feelings in deference to a certain understanding of Biblical scripture would certainly make it possible to do the sort of things the WBC does without feeling morally bankrupt yourself, though that still strains belief.

So now I understand a little better why the WBC does what it does, and so my previous feelings towards the church -- anger, resentment and doubt that their actions are truly statements of faith rather than petty attention mongering -- are instead turned into pity and a desire for them to see the error of their ways. That's interesting.

But also I see Megan Phelps-Roper herself as someone who is in a position to do something remarkable now. She states that she wants to be "an influence for good" going forward. The reporter comments that "you may believe it or you may not." I do believe it. Here is a young woman who is well-spoken and media savvy. There is a spark of intelligence and wit in her statement that made me smile and made me think. She was raised in an environment with a single focus: to do what her community believed was God's work in the world. To do good. Now she has no longer subscribes to that community's beliefs. However, her innate gifts and seasoned skill in studying, communicating, speaking and writing, and most importantly, her desire to do good, all remain. I think that's a unique place to be in, and a place from which something may spring that truly is God's work. How wonderful -- and ironic -- would it be if the WBC had forged this young woman in a crucible of hate, but she instead goes forward to preach love and kindness and mercy instead?

I guess I just felt the Spirit moving when I read these pieces today. And I don't usually feel that when I'm reading random stuff on the Internet.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 7, 2013 11:44 AM.

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