E. Winter Tashlin

Drawing Hope From Hate

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | August 27, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: civil rights, freedom of speech, nonviolent protest, rights of the minority, Westboro Baptist Church, Wintersong Tashlin

The Westboro Baptist Church gives me hope.

I'm pretty sure that bringing feelings of hope, comfort, and even pride to a kinky, polyamorous, queer, pagan isn't exactly their mission in the world, but they do anyway. Oh, well.

I know that their very name alone fills most people, particularly queer/LGBT people, with a welter of turbulent emotions. Fear, hate, disgust, and anger are probably high on the list for most Bilerico Project readers. I am hardly a fan of their message or modus operandi myself.

But for all vileness of their methods, and I suspect their hearts, the Westboro Baptist Church also represents what is good about this country. There may be a few dank corners of this nation where you'll find people who support the WBC, but the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum find their behavior reprehensible. Even those perfectly willing to turn the other cheek at anti-LGBT hatred have a harder time with vicious protests of military funerals, or hate and profanity filled signs at their children's schools. Despite this overwhelming disapproval, the activities of the Wesboro Baptist Church continue with little impediment.

And that's a very good thing for us queers, pagans, and other minorities in American society.

No image in today's media so visibly captures the constitutional freedoms enjoyed in this country as the repugnant scum from the Westboro Baptist Church protesting with their vile signs. Nobody wants the WBC in their town, but the church members move freely, preaching their hateful message throughout the nation. It is beyond absurd to think that any jurist on the Supreme Court approves of the WBC protesting at military funerals, yet the their right to do so was upheld in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.

How can that bring anything but hope and comfort to folk like me?

In a day when the political rhetoric around issues like Same Sex Marriage increasingly focuses on the "right" of the majority to decide who is worthy of equality or justice, seeing that the law still protects people as despised and despicable as the WBC can only bring hope.

With the PATRIOT ACT, illegal wiretapping, rampant use of CCTV cameras, no-knock warrants, and police forces acting as extensions of the CIA in minority communities, representing only a fraction of the threats to American freedom in the post 9/11 age, the Westboro Baptist Church serves as visible reminder that we have not yet shredded the entire Bill of Rights.

There are many countries where the kind of rhetoric spouted by Fred Phelps and his church could land someone in prison. But when you stifle one kind of dangerous idea, shut down one brand of intellectual outlaw, free discourse itself suffers. When I look at the Westboro Baptist Church, I can't help but feel proud to live in the rare country whose foundational document protects the exchange of even the most unpopular ideas.

Don't get me wrong, I support taking steps to prevent pastors and preachers from actively inciting their followers to violence. However, the WBC doesn't preach violence against any of their myriad targeted groups. They grotesquely celebrate when violence comes unbidden, and they preach eternal suffering at the hands of a wrathful god, but they do not encourage people to take violent action against anyone. In fact, their website actively discourages violence.

As unpopular an idea as this may be, I believe that any group engaged in social or political protest should study certain elements of the WBC's operations. Fred Phelps, himself a disbarred civil rights lawyer, knows exactly the limits of the law regarding his church's protest activities and has ensured that while his people walk right up to those limits, they do not cross them. The internet is full of photographs of counter protesters standing right besides WBC protesters holding signs like "fuck this guy" or turning their hateful message into a humorous and supportive message about LGBT people. The fact that Westboro Baptist Church members have steadfastly resisted for decades the temptation to respond in a way that could cross the line demarcated by the law, is as admirable as it is frustrating.

I believe that this is a dangerous time for sexual and religious minorities in this country. Despite historic gains in social and legal recognition, the tide could easily turn against us in the next few years. In being a visual embodiment of the protected rights of the minority, The Westboro Baptist Church serves as a beacon of hope and reassurance for those that they hate the most.

And if that delicious little irony doesn't just bring a smile to this pagan, kinky, poly, queer boy's face...

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Paige Listerud | August 27, 2011 5:38 PM

I have another sense of hope, but it's quite a different celebration from the First Amendment rights you site. Keep in mind that the First Amendment has been severely curtailed by the Patriot Act and nothing about that under Obama has changed.

No, the Westboro Baptist Church, in the face of mainstream religious homophobes, has no shame about putting together the words "God Hates . . . " Far better to see this directly and clearly than the so-called, more moderate "hate the sin, love the sinner" position in mainstream Christianity. Far better to deal with WBC than Michelle Bachmann's hypocrisy over not hating queers, but wanting to do everything to deprive us of equality under the law.

Far better to see WBC have enough rope to hang themselves with, voluntarily making themselves the perfect example of far-right loonie toons and how hatred spreads from hatin' on the gays, to hating dead US soldiers coming back in body bags, to hating Muslims, to hating . . . who else is on their hit list? It's bound to be something every bit insane.

"....when you stifle one kind of dangerous idea, shut down one brand of intellectual outlaw, free discourse itself suffers." Westboro Baptists are "intellectual?"

I don't think I would typically categorize them as "intellectual" or what they do as "discourse" but I also think that when we start deciding who is or isn't entitled to free speech it's a short hop to banning GSAs and Pride Parades.

My college campus was visited by this guy named Defario and his daughter. Different group from westboro but same brand of crazy.

Seeing a group like that in person though, all I could do was laugh. There is nothing to be feared from them. The views are so extreme that they turn into a form of self parody and we don't need John Stewart to see the irony or humor.

Seeingeyegrrl | August 28, 2011 10:01 AM

I live in a very small rural area (entire county is 40k) and I identify as a christian(expanded) queer....and it has been amazing to me in the last ten years that we now have nine, yes nine churchs, who openly proclaim themselves to be open, affirming or reconciling. Not only that but they are very involved and supportive in PFLAG and other groups that are supportive to LGBT issues. My "church ladies" did all the decorating for the PFLAG Valentine party. I am also very involved in the lesbian community....and lets just say the church folks appear to have a more supportive outreach to the young queer and questioning community then the lesbians I know do. And maybe it is different in other places. The don't just open their doors...but they are out there being visable and available. Recently we had a transgendered speaker at PFLAG and half the folks in attendence were from my church. As we went around the room and shared stories, I all realized they were able to make the stand they have made because of their queer loved ones, family members and persons who had touched their lives. Another good reason to come out of the closet. Just sharing, there has been a change....there is not only the WBC out there or folks who don't accept...but those who do care. Oh, guess I will come out of the christian closet too...

Paige Listerud | August 28, 2011 3:27 PM

Thanks, Seeingeyegrrl. Now, this gives me hope.