It doesn’t take much to form a church. Basically, you just hang out a shingle somewhere and you can call your organization a church.
It also doesn’t take much to ordain yourself as a preacher. You can go online and for a few dollars on your credit card you can be reverend, bishop or even an archbishop. People do this all the time and can officiate at weddings. Apparently, it has become passé in some circles to have a real honest-to-God preacher at your nuptials.
Fred Phelps was the founding pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. There are many groups he spewed with his hatred: Jews, Catholics, gays, Muslims, American Service personnel and politicians.
Fred is dead and some of his family took up where he left off. They give the Topeka, Kansas, neighborhood of Westboro a bad name, not to mention Baptists and churches.
I’m sad to report that they have set their sights on Gainesville next week. They are going to protest in front of several local churches and then head to Atlanta and protest near the Super Bowl. A few weeks after that, they plan to protest at the Academy Awards.
These people have protested at the funeral of our fallen members of the armed forces. They went to court and, unfortunately, our constitutional protection of free speech protects them.
This falls in the same category of folks who burn our flag and make other expressions of hatred.
Here is the point that I have a hard time dealing with Jesus’ directive that we not engage with those who are our enemies. I’m not sure that these folks from Westboro really understand Jesus. He talked about grace and forgiveness. I haven’t heard them espouse anything that sounds the least bit graceful.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, made it rather clear.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
I don’t know if I want to give them my coat, but I would gladly give them a bus ticket out of town.
I have read that the Episcopalians are going to ring their tower of bells the entire time the Kansans are there. If they need an extra rope puller, I am readily available.
They are coming to First Baptist, where I attend, at 8 a.m. If someone happened to leave the sprinkler system on, it would be fine with me.
The best thing we can do is not engage with them. If they happened to cross our paths, then we can throw up a hand and wave “hello.”
A few years ago, folks began wearing armbands that asked the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” I think he’d be polite and while I find that hard to do while gritting my teeth, that’s my plan.Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.