They can make even the most peace-loving pacifist’s blood boil. And that’s the point.
The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose congregation consists primarily of the extended family of Pastor Fred Phelps, is notorious for feeding off of the deepest and most painful wounds of mourners. They are known for protesting the funerals or soldiers hoisting signs that declaring all of the things that God apparently “hates.”
What’s their latest target? The funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the nine year-old girl murdered in the Tucson massacre on Saturday.
The Green family is Catholic, and Christina sang in her parish’s choir. According the Phelps family, “God hates Catholics,” too.
In anticipation of the protest, Arizona legislators quickly passed an emergency bill that, effective immediately, will make it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.
Pastor Phelps posted a video in which he thanked God for the Tucson gunman, calling Loughner a “soldier hero” for God. The shootings, according to Phelps, are God’s way of avenging all of the abortions and tolerance of homosexuality in the United States. Not to leave anyone unscathed, he even called Sarah Palin a “witch” and a “cowardly brute” for removing the crosshairs from her website.
Is your blood boiling yet? That’s what precisely what they’re hoping for.
The Phelps family is a notorious lawsuit machine. They gather at situations of intense pain and loss, scream the most outrageously vile statements about the tragedy, and pray that by scraping away at mourners’ already raw emotions, they can incite people to violence.
Because they have an almost sinister awareness of precisely what buttons to push, it’s not uncommon for a grief-stricken individual to lunge at or strike them. Once attacked, they file a lawsuit. Whatever money they receive funds the Westboro mission.
Of all of the Christians who perpetuate hate in the name of the God, the Phelps family is unique. Watching them in interviews, one cannot help but notice that their gleeful frenzies of hate speech emerge from a deep internal disturbance, not a place of faith or belief. They cannot be dialogued with, and they seem to have no biblical or theological life beyond the two highly politicized issues of abortion and gay rights.
If there is a belief system undergirding their behavior, it would seem to be nihilism. There is no rational basis for their convictions. They love to create chaos during solemn moments and their goals are ultimately destructive.
They have no regard for the meaning of life -- especially the sorrow and personal tragedy that often comes with it. If there is anything motivating them, it is the greater accumulation of attention and money.
As more people become wise to their tactics, they have begun to think up creative and meaningful acts of “counterterrorism” against the Westboro protests. For Christina Green’s funeral, volunteers are organizing an “angel action” in which they will use 8-by-10 foot angel wings to shield funeral attendees from the picketers.
Read more about the new Arizona law and the angel action here.