Westboro Baptist and You

by Caleb Wilde

“There’s a special place in hell for baby killers.”

“You might not be guilty now, but wait until God gets a hold of you!”

These are actual quotes from my Facebook feed on the day Casey Anthony was found not guilty. I must admit, my sentiment wasn’t very different. The supposed image of Anthony duct-taping her 2-year-old daughter so she could go out partying seems like a microcosm of the young Americans we love to hate, who ditch regard of others for momentary self-absorbed pleasure.

Of course, we’re just as likely to vilify those who don’t get away with their wrongdoings. “He had it coming,” was my first thought when hearing that Ryan Dunn (of Jackass fame) drank his BAC to twice the legal limit and crashed his Porsche at 130 mph, killing himself and Zachary Hartwell.   

And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

The now notorious Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to protest Dunn’s funeral, and embraced their right to free speech with this pithy comment: “[The] drab pervert hawked … filth to get rich off a perverse generation. … In His wrath, God cut off this young man in the prime of his life, because he made a mock of sin, and taught his fellow man to grievously sin against God!”   

Ouch.

It’s tempting to excuse our own thoughts on tragedies like Dunn’s and be outraged by Westboro’s public, harsh responses. After all, aren’t they extremists, maiming the message of the God they claim to love? But whether or not we march outside funerals of those we disagree with, we’re guilty of the same. Our intentions may be pure, our bottom line may be biblical, but the ends don’t always justify the means.

We’re All Members

I’m not going to try and pull the old bait-and-switch and tell you that all of us are just as bad as baby killers or drunk drivers so we have no right to comment. Nor am I going to try and say we should squelch our zeal for justice. Rather, I hope to point out the value of “I-Thou” relationships and reject the “I-It” objectification so embraced by Fred Phelps and his crew. 

This leap from “person” to “object” is the one Westboro has made to justify their public, insensitive and often irrational protests of everything from pop concerts, to shuttle launches, to memorials for military deaths. But it’s the same leap that all too many of us make when it comes to judging others. We lose touch with the person we’re ready to stone and instead turn them into an “it” that represents a reprehensible and immoral idea or action.

On a larger scale, it’s the leap made when the people of Africa become slaves; when homosexuals become detestable; when women and children become sex slaves; when Ryan Dunn becomes an object lesson on stupidity for the masses and Casey Anthony becomes the punch line of condemning bumper stickers…

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