- I am a Topekan. It’s a pretty good city, all things considered. Not the best, by far, but good.
- I’ve grown up “in the shadow” of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) all of my life.
-They’ve picketed my Church (“Sodomite Fag Priests Burn In Hell,” apparently)
-They’ve picketed my High School (“Sodomite School News Paper Burns In Hell” also, apparently)
-I went to High School with a few of the Phelps clan, who would list their picketing as a “community service” on college applications, I recall.
- I am an actively practicing Roman Catholic who has an “orthodox” view of human sexuality and marriage, which would have been the default understanding in just about any known culture at any known time in human history except for now.
- I love a good conspiracy theory, even when it’s pretty likely not true.
Hate: Why the Westboro Baptist Church is the Greatest Proponent Homosexuality Could Ever Want
Growing up in Topeka, I remember when homosexuality was mostly a non-issue. I remember the occasional media mention of someone like the third Real World’s Pedro Zamora, or the hullabaloo over the “lesbian kiss” scenes in popular sitcoms or dramas of the day (Rosanne‘s was the first I recall, but there were a few prior to it.) [Note: I’ve always thought it interesting that the coming inculturation began for the most part with something more people were apt to see as “less icky,” namely two women kissing, rather than two men, but that’s for another post.]
And then there was Phelps and the WBC. They made what seemed at the time a mountain out of a molehill. They loudly warned that the end would be nigh for the abominations that were permitted to happen, and thy made sure we knew what these abominations were by referencing them on their signs, using stick figures to illustrate just what the “fag sin” was.
I was in high school at the time, poorly catechized, and a public school kid, so I found the signs funny and hateful and that was that.
But the WBC got louder. And louder. And LOUDER.
They got attention with their bright signs and picketing of “notable offences.” So they picketed more. They picket 6 places every day on average, and as many as 15 churches on a given Sunday.
The spew what seems to be vitriolic hate, (although to be fair, occasionally genuine compassion of a sort will shine through, as it did in this clip from the Russel Brand Show, when he had two members, Steve and Timothy on as “guests”. Leather-clad Timothy is more vitriolic, but Steve is actually rather patient in his explanations of their beliefs before an audience he knew would be only interested in mocking them.)
If you can watch this piece with an honestly open mind, even if you completely disagree with the WBC, you have to be able to acknowledge that Steve honestly seems pretty sincere, and while Russel Brand does ostensibly welcome them peacefully to the show, he does take some liberties with quoting scripture one way or the other.
Of course, this is rare form, and most of the time most of the members are content to just inform you that you’re going to burn in “fag hell” for being a “fag enabler,” etc.
They have become the poster-children for opposition to “free love”, vile hate. I’ve watched many people over the years go from being “on the fence” about the issue of homosexuality to being ardently “pro-gay-rights,” citing as their first and main justification,”I don’t want to be like those guys,” with a head-nod towards the WBC.
And thus, by making any opposition to homosexuality appear to be mired in hatred and bigotry, the WBC has singlehandedly (well, as manyhandedly as there are members) done more to advance the cause they oppose than anyone else.
The Rainbow House Counter-Offensive
The Westboro Baptist Church sits cloistered in a neighbor hood in Topeka, at around 12th and Orleans, which is just a few blocks form my aforementioned, picketed High School. Many people don’t care to live right across from them, but then Aaron Jackson, a humanitarian championed by CNN for his work in other countries opted to buy a house right across the street from the WBC.
And paint it up like a rainbow.
He assures us he’s not trying to be offensive, but of course he is trying to offend one small group of people, who by their own admission “love the sodomite rainbow house.”
Mr. Jackson was attempting, no doubt, some passive-aggressive protestation of an often times not-so-passive-aggressive group of protesters, and has thus begun to fight the fire with gasoline, giving the group more of what they crave: attention. Attention and a platform.
Orthodoxy: The Middle Ground
The real losers in all of this are people like me. People who understand that there are reasons to oppose homosexuality that aren’t just about being hateful, and that opposing homosexuality doesn’t mean having to hate anyone in particular. In fact, the Catholic Church is very clear on this issue:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” (CCC 2385)
But “unjust discrimination” doesn’t mean that one cannot support the concept of marriage as between one man and one woman. In fact, a coherent argument can be made against it, as Robert George (et al.) did on CNN just a few days ago. (Not the first time he’s done it, nor the first time it’s been done.)
Of course, part of the problem is that we, as a culture, have accepted a mentality that leaves little room for any grounds for opposition other than “it’s icky,” or “verses X, Y, and Z say it’s bad.” As Elizabeth Anscombe wrote just over 40 years ago, once you’ve accepted the wonderful blessing of contraception, you’ve implicitly accepted everything that comes with it, the fruits of which we are seeing now.
If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here – not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behaviour in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.
This is itself an extension of the warnings of which Pope Paul VI issued a decade before Anscombe in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae (see paragraph(s) 17), where he let down so many Catholics who were hopeful that the church would change her position, which is, of course, something she cannot do without simultaneously ceasing to be the church.
Thus as a Catholic, I find myself uniquely in the middle. Those on the WBC side will say I’m too liberal, and a “fag enabler” for it. Those on the opposite end will say that I’m a bigot who can’t get over myself.
I, however, will maintain that I am orthodox. I live in a unique middle position that is the mean between two extremes. As Chesterton noted in his book appropriately titled Orthodoxy (which is free if you have a Kindle!), Orthodoxy is like a charioteer, careening wildly and often tipping one way or the other, but never toppling over entirely:
This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom—that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.