Fire and Brimstone —
Note: This post is totally off topic from our usual fare. Also, there will be no links in this article to the stories I’m referencing for reasons which will soon become clear.
Back in 1998, Westboro Baptist Church was just starting to get press coverage for their response to the murder of Matthew Shepherd. The first time I heard about their website, “God Hates Fags,” I was a freshman at the University of Missouri — Columbia and they were coming to protest on our campus. I don’t remember why, and I can’t find any news accounts of it anywhere, but I think it’s fair to say that Mizzou did something that God hates.
In any case, at the time, I felt the same deep-seeded rage at the idea that these people are not only claiming to be messengers of God, but that their message was so thoroughly hateful, so intensely hurtful that I wanted to lash out at them. And we did. We all sat around in the days and weeks leading up to the protest talking about how horrible the Fred Phelps and the WBC is.
It’s a completely natural reaction to such unnatural contempt and hatred. As a young Catholic, I knew full well that the God of love was often hijacked by messages of hate by all religions throughout history. It’s a pretty easy gig: anyone can quote God as being on their side because the invisible skyman won’t step in and say, “Wait a minute, I never said anything about hating anyone.”
What’s even easier than that is the formula that the Phelps family follows now that they are able to draw the undivided attention, and ire, of a grieving nation. All they have to do is wait for a national tragedy or the death of a beloved icon, and WBC says “We’re going to protest it!” Follow this with some iteration of “God hates fags” or “Fag enablers” or some other hateful bullshit and the media picks it up, we click on it, and Fred Phelps gets his rageboner.
It’s the perfect troll and it works because few groups are willing to be as consistently and stubbornly hateful as the WBC. It’s a game to them, waiting for the next horrific event that they can glom onto to great and shameless effect. It’s also great for the media outlets because people LOVE to read what WBC has to say (so we can clench our fists and shake our heads), even though WE ALREADY KNOW.
Honestly, if you see a news story that says “Westboro Baptist Church says…” what do you think is going to be different about this story than the last 20 or so? Do you think it’s going to say, “Fred Phelps has repented and wants you to know that God loves all people everywhere because you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.” Nope. They’re going to say that Tragedy X was caused by gay marriage and America turning its back on God and this is God’s way of punishing you.”
That’s all they have to say. Over and over and over again. When Bill Clinton dies, WBC will be there to protest. When a plane crashes, WBC will blame gay people. There’s nothing WBC could say or do at this point that we can’t already predict with 99.999% accuracy.
The same goes for their Twitter feed. They’re now spewing hate in real time and people are responding with their own hatred toward WBC. But this is exactly what Fred Phelps wants.
He doesn’t want to baptize you and convert you to his way of thinking. If he did, then he would probably be the single worst evangelist in Christian history. The only way WBC’s membership goes up is when they have one of their incestuous babies. They aren’t spreading the Good News, they are sewing the seeds of discord and hatred among anyone they can bait into responding. WBC is nothing but godtrolls with WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too much time on their hands.
The way that media outlets choose the priority of their online publications is how much attention the story gets. They’re in it for the clicks. More clicks means more ad dollars, so no matter what the actual story, if it drives readers to their pages, then they will keep publishing similar stories in the hope that you will keep clicking.
Westboro Baptist Church is GUARANTEED CLICKS. You see the headline, you seethe with rage, and you click. You can’t control the first two actions because right now, they’re still getting headlines. But you can control that third action. You can choose not to click.
Stop giving the media a reason to make WBC relevant. Stop responding to their tweets with reciprocal rage. Hatred is what fosters an environment where WBC is given a platform to spread more hatred. Do you really want to contribute to that? Do you really want to keep giving Fred Phelps the relevance he desperately needs?
We can’t control what the WBC says, but we can control how we respond to it. We can choose to ignore the WBC (I’ve created the hashtag #IgnoreWBC to spread the word) and to not give their hate any more attention than they need or deserve.
Having seen the nature of Westboro Baptist Church from the very beginning, I’ve been disheartened to see their message reach a broader and broader audience as they’ve taken their special brand of hate speech to new depths. At first, it seemed that confronting them head-on would bring some kind of resolution. It seemed like answering their hatred with our own contempt might dissuade them from being so openly hateful. That has not worked.
Now, I propose we try something else, something we haven’t tried before. I suggest that we shut them out of the dialogue completely. I suggest that we let them scream about the hatred of God until they’re blue in the face, but we do not answer them. We already know they are wrong and that they do not represent God. What gives them satisfaction and what keeps them relevant is the fact that we keep craning our necks to hear what they have to say about this world, when what we should be doing is listening to the calmer, kinder voices that respond to hatred with love and kindness and understanding.
So please: next time you see a link to a story about the Westboro Baptist Church or Fred Phelps, don’t click it. If you see a tweet where they’re listing the many things God hates, don’t respond to it. They aren’t worth a moment of your thoughts or a single negative emotion. Let’s start to make them as irrelevant to modern human life as they really, truly are.
With that, I leave you with the greatest piece of wisdom I’ve ever known.