Over the long weekend we watched two TV documentaries in which Louis Theroux spent time with the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. He interviewed members of the family, including children, some very young women, and one member who got into the group as a documentary film maker himself. I admit that my initial reaction to seeing this family in action was anger. Nothing infuriates me quite as much as willful ignorance. The children attend public school. The adults hold down regular jobs. They are not in forced isolation like many other cult members. They have an opportunity to learn if they want to, and yet they choose to continue to believe what their older family members tell them.
But soon my anger turned to pity for many of the young people in the group. They have been so completely brainwashed from birth, that they seem quite incapable of thinking for themselves. They have completely mentally crippled these children with fear of Hell and ostracism. If someone makes even the smallest mistake, they are expelled from the church, and they are completely cut off from further contact with their family. It was clear when they were being interviewed that they had been coached to stick to particular talking points and deliver certain lines. If they were asked anything where they would need to show their personal emotions, they evaded the question and began attacking the presenter.
It is clear to me based on the amount of times that they contradicted themselves within the same sentence, that the members of Westboro Baptist Church are completely irrational. That being said, I still gave some thought as to how I would react if I were to ever encounter a member of this cult. I feel that the only appropriate response is to react with love. The most beautiful thing about God is that His love is so great that it encompasses even them. The grace of God surrounds us all. Having never been dead, I am in no place to tell you what happens when we die. Unlike some, I do not presume to know the intentions of God and the universe. But I like to imagine that when we pass from this Earth, our souls are completely exposed to the unending love of God. If we have lived a hate-filled life, the knowledge of this grace may fill us with shame. But who am I to say how God works? I would tell them that the God I know loves them and will forgive them for the sins of hate that they committed and the hate that they perpetuated, both by spewing it, and by causing it in others. And when they started quoting scripture, I would remind them to “judge not.”
Westboro Baptist targets most of their energy at gay-bashing. Their focus is on people’s sexual orientation. But it is my belief that our orientation in this life must be toward love. If you believe that we are all children of God, then that means we are all one human family. Imagine the kind of world we’d live in if we tried to love everyone we encountered as if they were part of our own family. I know that most people I know aren’t religious, and that my interpretation of religion is, to say the least, unorthodox, but it is my sincere belief that our greatest responsibility as human souls is to love one another. It’s a challenging idea, but one I refuse to give up on.