What to do if Westboro Baptist Church shows up on your doorstep

Westboro Baptist Church showed up at church services in California this weekend. How would you respond if they strained religious conversations in your own home? 

Kevin Lamarque/Reauters/FILE
In this photo, Vietnam War veterans form part of a line to block an anti-gay protest held by members of the Westboro Baptist Church (rear, hidden) at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Veterans Day, 2010.

In light of the increasingly disturbing appearances of the members of Westboro Baptist Church – protesting soldiers' funerals, other churches, and even the Golden Globes – parents should think about ways to look beyond the anger often present in religious disputes.

It’s actually very easy to preach “love over hate” to our kids, but they’re just too smart to walk that walk if they see their parents raving at the TV set, Internet, or newspaper over the images of Westboro members desecrating a military funeral or holding up picket signs that announce “God hates America!”

It’s hard to teach kids to handle hate with love when some haters are so good at hitting us where our spirits come alive – at church.

I have come to believe these displays of public hating can serve to unite us if we can see them not as a common enemy, but a shared funhouse mirror, showing us the reverse image of what we want to be.

The world seems to be playing the hate and vengeance theme song so loud we can become a little hard of hearing when it comes to the voices of reason, love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance.

The Westboro group worries me because it has the ability to pollute the spiritual experiences of families.

Recently, Westboro followers have appeared at Salem Lutheran Church and School, First United Methodist Church, Glendale Presbyterian Church, and Holy Family Catholic Community, all in Glendale, Calif., according to UPI.

Pastor Keith Banwart Jr. of St. Matthew’s Church shows that it’s not an unreasonable fear to imagine this anger coming to a church near you.

According a a recent interview with UPI, Pastor Banwart said, “They come out for the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. They travel across the country protesting at churches, military funerals, believing that God’s wrath is coming down on America and not allowing LGBT people to live in peace.”

While I have tried to live in love, it is just not something that comes as naturally to me as I would hope, and seeing WBC’s actions in the news yanks me off the path of love and faith pretty easily. Especially when faith has been a touchy subject in my household recently. 

Therefore, the WBC is preying on my mind because I have been separated from my faith by anger before and don’t want it to happen to me or anyone else again.

I left the Catholic Church after a bullying experience at a Catholic school which ended so badly that three of our four sons have completely refused to set foot in a church again for the past six years.

Seeing my kids lose faith, I lost faith too, until six months ago when my need for community, fellowship, and family unity in faith became so strong it carried me to a different church community entirely.

However, only our youngest son, Quin, 10, who had never attended a religious school, went with me every Sunday.

My husband, a non-church person from the start, was disappointed in my decision to go back to church, largely because of groups like Westboro Baptist Church and the headlines they generate.

He called out religion in general as mean, intolerant, ugly, hateful, spiteful, and responsible for countless deaths via holy wars and hate-fueled incidents.

In response, I did exactly what I would tell my kids not to do – I became defensive and angry.

At times, our disagreement was so encompassing, we were barely on speaking terms. One day, leading up to the holidays, he asked tersely what I wanted for Christmas. I shrugged.

The next Sunday, as Quin and I drove home from church, he said I should not let my anger get the better of me. This is a lecture I preach to him daily, so hearing this from him hurt in a way only the truth can. 

His words inspired me to re-start the religious discussion with my husband, this time with love.

Later that same evening, I told my husband, “I know what I want for Christmas. But it’s going to cost you a lot.”

My husband rolled his eyes, because we were dead broke. “Fine,” he said. “What?”

I told him I wanted the entire family to join Quin and me at church Christmas Eve for the service.

Before my husband could decline, our son Ian, 19, became the human incarnation of wrath, “Never! Never happen in this or any other lifetime. No! N-O.”

Our other son Avery, 14, joined in with his brother, although less forcefully.

This outside (non-marital) force of anger from our own kids had the effect of unifying us as parents in an instant.

My husband did a complete 180 and said, “We’re going. It’s not about religion. It’s about family and showing your mother respect and support. We’re ALL going.” 

On Christmas Eve, for the first time in six years, our family went to church as a whole.

When the little girl in white with a silver pipe cleaner halo said from the pulpit, “And Mary had her first ever son and he was a boy – Jesus…her son…who was also a boy,” we laughed together, the walls we had built against one another crumbled, and were unified.

It’s amazing how both anger and love can unify us. Knowing that might just make it easier to get past the protesters and into the spirit.

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