Can the Biblical “end of days” prophecy be used to explain yesterday’s tragic Boston marathon bombing? The Westboro Baptist Church seems to believe so. In its latest act of twisted faith, the church announced it would picket the funerals of those lost in Monday’s blast.
The church has openly welcomed acts of violence, as punishment for what it believes is America’s moral decay. Its targeting of Jewish and LGBT communities heralds the actions of these followers of Christ as one of the most egregious hate groups in the nation according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Westboro, the small congregation from Topeka, Kansas, name has become synonymous with picketing after having protested funerals for victims of gay bashing, persons who died of complications from AIDS, LGBT Americans, and secular sporting and musical events. Beginning their picketing as evangelism crusade in 1991, one parishioner estimated the church spends upwards of $250,000 in travel expenses to protest spread the gospel against “immorality” traveling to all 50 states.
Counting 25,000 pickets to its credit Westboro Baptist Church first garnered national attention by picking the service of Matthew Shepherd, a gay man beaten in Wyoming in 1998. In recent years, its targeted military funerals in the wake of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and its reversal and school shooting victims like that of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut. Members have even taken tweeting “God send the shooter” as a call for divine destruction and celebration amidst mourning.
In 2011 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of protecting Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest under the First Amendment. However the following year President Obama signed legislation that prohibits picketing of military funerals within 300 feet of the premise. Criticism of the congregation antics have proven to be a bipartisan issue with former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s commenting via Twitter that the SCOTUS ruling lacked “common sense and decency” and allows a “wacko church” to spew hate speech.
"We are trying to warn you to flee the wrath of God, flee the wrath of destruction. What would be more kind than that? We have not slowed down and we will not," says Margie Phelps, legal counsel and daughter of Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps.
Facing yet another national tragedy, we have been asked to tap into the indomitable American spirit and to “empathize, but refuse to be terrorized.” Perhaps the message for parishioners of Westboro Baptist Church who plan to picket Boston marathon bombing funerals is to empathize and not terrorize the loved ones left behind and honor the memories of those lost by abandoning their mission.