Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post
Wally Dawall of Gaithersburg, Md., right, and Ray Schlegel of College Park, Md., pay respect to Navy Lt. Brendan J. Looney near the main entrance of Arlington National Cemetery while members of Westboro Baptist Church protest the funeral in the background.
Westboro Baptist Church, the tiny independent fundamentalist Christian church based in Topeka, Kan., announced on Twitter that, once again, they are planning to stomp over our nation’s heartache by protesting at the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and declaring “God sent the shooter.”
How do you solve a problem like Westboro Baptist Church? Here are a few options.
Westboro’s funeral protests are frequently met with inspired counter-protests that often result in a greater public support for the deceased’s families than they may have gotten had Westboro never gotten involved. One group, the Patriot Guard Riders, has organized motorcycle rides since 2005 to show of support for military families and to shield them from Westboro’s protests. In another recent example, hundreds of Texas A&M students formed a human chain last summer around the spot where Westboro was expected to protest the funeral of a soldier. According to media reports, church members never showed. In the case of Sandy Hook, one Reddit thread is attempting to organize against Westboro “by forming a silent blockade during the funeral processions.”
2. Engage — and try to explain to them that they’re wrong.
After Westboro protests, photos often emerge of other Christians trying to explain why they believe Westboro is wrong in its interpretation of the Bible and what it means to live according to Jesus’s teachings. Westboro claims that what others interpret as hate are acts of Christian love. “From a Bible standard, we love you,” one church member told the audience during an interview with Russell Brand.
The vast majority of American Christians disagree with their interpretation of Scripture. After Westboro threatened to protest Crosspoint Community Church in Tennessee, the church’s pastor, Pete Wilson, posted a video to their church’s Web site rejecting the group’s claims that they speak for Christ.
Russell Brand also tried his hand at theological debate with Westboro during the exchange with two church members on his television show. From The Friendly Atheist:
3. Shut them down.
Snyder v. Phelps
, decided by the Supreme Court in March 2011, the father of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who had been killed in Iraq, filed a lawsuit seeking damages, saying the group had turned his son’s 2006 funeral into a “circus,” according to Post reporting. The court sided with Westboro:
One current petition of the White House has more than 150,000 signatures, and asks the government to “legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.”
The White House petition reads:
Given the Supreme Court’s decision, further restrictions on Westboro seem unlikely, though local governments continue to use regulations to keep groups such as Westboro off of private property.
4. Ignore them.
Over the years, many have responded to Westboro’s protest plans with pleas for the public to ignore the group. Lady Gaga, whose July 2010 concert in St. Louis was picketed, called on her fans to “not respond to any of their provocation,” adding “don’t waste your words, or feelings, no matter what you hear or see. You are more fortunate and blessed than they are, and in your heart just pray for them.” Mary Winters’s 2011 case for ignoring Westboro noted that by paying attention to them, the church is getting what they want: publicity. Or, as Paul Waldman at the American Prospect put it in 2011, “We can’t put them in jail, but we can deprive them of the attention they crave.”
Related content on On Faith:
* Thistlethwaite: Obama gives voice to the new national determination on gun control
* National Cathedral dean: ‘… the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby’
* Graham: Why the shock and awe?
* Pace: Comfort the grieving
* Stanley: In tragedy we grieve; in God, we hope
* Quinn: Where was God?
* Thistlethwaite:God weeps: 27 children, staff killed in Conn. school shooting