This past week the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas came to Richmond, Virginia and staged one of its protests both at the Capital and on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The church is known for its use of inflammatory hate speech, especially against LGBTQ people, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Romani people and U.S. soldiers and politicians. The WBC is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. Many other Baptist churches, Baptist-affiliated seminaries, and Baptist conventions, including the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations), have denounced the WBC over the years. In addition, other mainstream Christian denominations have condemned the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.
It is really hard for me to wrap my mind around their theology. How do you preach a message of hate and at the same time be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus? Jesus’ entire ministry, culminating in the cross, was one of love, mercy, and grace. Jesus extended God’s love to everyone he met. Jesus’ compassion flowed freely from his words and his deeds. The love that Jesus expressed was transformative and embraced those who others had shunned.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” The power of love will always be greater than the power of hate because the scriptures teach us, “God is love.” If we view the world and all its peoples through this lens, hate cannot survive. The light of God’s love has in come in Jesus and the darkness shall not overcome it.
As followers of Jesus we are called to live in this light and bear witness to it through the living of our lives. My heart aches for all those who are a target of hate in our society. My heart also aches for those individuals from Westboro Baptist Church. Darkness has blinded them to the good news of God’s love. They are lost in such a deep darkness.
May each of us who claim Jesus as Lord live as lights amidst the darkness; realizing that when all is said and done, God will have the final word. It will be the word love. As the Gospel of John reminds us:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”