The Westboro Baptists have never made much sense to me. Setting aside how offensive the notion of protesting a soldiers funeral is, and the horrible things they say to homosexuals whom God bled and died for, they still don’t make any sense to me. Most will say that they are just filled with hate, but I think that doesn’t explain the whole picture. It’s too easy to just label someone you disagree with and walk away. There’s usually more going on under the hood and until you understand it better your comments lack meaning.
I was recommended a recent interview on this topic and ate it up. Turns out a woman by the name of Megan Phelps-Roper was a prominent member of this church a number of years back. She was the grand daughter of the founder and ran their social media accounts. You can find the interview HERE.
What I liked about the interview is that she gave a lot of details on how these folks arrive at the theological conclusions that inspire some of their horrific signs and actions. I’m assuming anyone with internet access is reasonably familiar with this congregation, I’m not comfortable retyping the things on their signs. If you want to see for yourself you can click HERE. There more recent ones seem to be an improvement.
Here is the thing that gets me, why do they feel the need to go to a soldiers funeral to protest homosexuality? I realize that’s a very tame way of putting it, I’m just laying the concept out there. What is it in their head that maps that one out and do they base in on the Bible? If so how? From the interview this is what I got.
This verse seems to be a big one with them:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” Lev 19:17 ESV
This is how she understands that verse in Leviticus…
“Watching your neighbor go down a bad path leads to curses for them in this life and hell in the world to come, so therefore you should correct your neighbor. You failed to warn them, you didn’t give them the opportunity to repent.”
So the idea is that if you’re not reasoning with your neighbor then you are guilty of their sins too. How I understand this from the interview is that she believed anyone who isn’t protesting or resisting the sins of America in general is complicit in those sins. So that explains the protesting I guess. Although I think it would be more logical from their perspective to focus on protesting government institutions directly or maybe Hollywood.
I think that’s a bad application of that passage though, first off it’s old covenant which is now obsolete (Heb 8:13). Secondly, the passage is taught in the greater context of a theocracy. If you were going to make application in principal of this command in the new covenant era it would be with regards to church discipline.
How is it she ended up protesting soldiers funerals though? I’ll walk you through the passages and reasoning that she articulated.
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. “ Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV
If you have read my blog posts on the old vs new covenant then you already know where I’m going with my analysis on Westboro. For the sake of a new reader though let’s walk through this one carefully.
What we have here in Deuteronomy is God’s Word articulating the conditions placed on the Mosaic Covenant. Every covenant has a promise, a sign, and a condition. The condition of the old covenant was obedience, if you fail to keep it you incur consequences. If the distinction between new and old covenant is new to you I recommend starting out with a piece I wrote on this while leaving Adventism HERE.
Few things are more obvious in scripture than the distinction between the new and old covenant. Even the word “testament” simply means covenant. If you’re not getting this idea the Bible is a closed book to you. Through the 66 books there is a consistent narrative on this and it relates directly to Jesus words in New Testament when he makes a New Covenant. One of the ways we distinguish his new covenant from the old is that the new covenant doesn’t have conditions on it and the old one does.
So you might be noticing that it’s kind of strange for a church that calls itself Christian to be using an old covenant condition for a new covenant prescription to protest anything. Nevertheless, this is what we are left with. According to Megan Phelps-Roper, that verse in Deut is used as a foundation for the following question:
“Can we all agree that a dead child is a curse from God and not a blessing?”
I would argue that this isn’t relevant to the passage being cited. Children can die for many reasons that aren’t relevant or connected to a covenant that is currently obsolete (Heb 8:13). As an example of dead soldiers being a specific curse though this verse is cited:
When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?’ Judges 5:8
My problem with this is that it’s narrative. As a rule you don’t use stories of specific events as normative descriptors for unrelated events. How ridiculous would that be if done consistently?
We can see in Judges that God punished Israel for idolatry in keeping with the curses outlined for failing to keep his covenant. That’s all that is, it has no bearing on today whatsoever except in the body of Christ as he hung on the tree. He bore the true curse for all of us. The curses laid on Israel in the old covenant were type and shadow of the curse laid upon Jesus Christ when he gave us the new.
Nevertheless, Westboro uses this passage and the next as a normative foundation for the idea that God will punish America for her sins in the form of her soldiers dying in war.
“9 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins….11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird-no birth, no pregnancy no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till non is left” Hosea 9:9, 11-12 ESV
Hosea isn’t narrative, instead we are having prophetic imagery of curses to come for Israel failing to keep the covenant. Punishments yes, but specific to Israel in a time and place that isn’t here or today. Instead of contextualizing that, Westboro makes broad application to America today. This is how they frame:
“When a nation has institutionalized sin against God, God responds with killing their children in battle”
So the idea is they have chosen to protest funerals so that we all get the message that God is punishing America for her sins. Even if you accept the premise I think that is a bad idea. There would be better venues for protesting sin. When you protest a soldiers funeral all you’re communicating to others is that the soldiers sacrifice for you is of no value.
The conclusion is flawed though altogether. Israel was punished for failing to keep God’s law with a punishment that is lighter than what they deserve to give us the idea. We all have fallen short of the glory of God, we all deserve death and hell. God is Holy in an infinite sense, and thus his wrath against sin is equally infinite. The only way out is through and equally infinite expression of love in his sacrifice on the cross. Nothing less than that is enough to pay the debt of sin. Even the horrors of war and the death of our children is simply not enough.
For the death of soldiers today to be a punishment from God, in the same sense as spoken of in the Old Testament, the idea conveyed would be that Jesus death on the cross was pointing to here and now. Instead of the new covenant making the old obsolete it would be the otherway around. By creating a false law in missing type and shadow Westboro robs you of the gospel too.
Westboro doesn’t go far enough with the law, it seems to me that they portray it as something they are able to keep simply by not being homosexuals. They can’t keep God’s law any better than Israel could. Instead of learning from that lesson they take the minor punishments only meant to convey as foreshadow of the actual punishments of eternal hellfire and present them as present day punishments out of context, while conveniently excluding themselves.
Jesus bled and died for Westboro same as he did those they protest. Jesus took the true punishment that the old covenant horrors merely pointed to. How you approach scripture matters, there are consequences. In this case like so many others the false teaching peddled by Westboro created an apostasy factory, and a very good one too as it has inspired apostasy both within and without their congregation.
This is going to sound harsh and I don’t expect the average reader to agree, feel free to sound off in the comments either way. In fact I welcome a critical analysis of what I’m about to say so readers can see different views and decide for themselves.
In my frank opinion Westboro is simply being consistent with what I understand to be the Baptist approach to scripture regarding the doctrine of baptism. You take a list of specific narrative examples of adults being baptized in the book of Acts and read it as normative and prescriptive across the board. The word “only” is read in between a few words here and there, and you develop creative ways of re-interpreting clear prescriptive passages to the contrary. Westboro has simply been consistent and used this methodology in other areas. I’m not intending to lump in all Baptists with Westboro, I’m just saying there is some clear overlap with the approach to scripture is all. If you’re reading this as a non-westboro Baptist please file it under friendly constructive criticism from your favorite Armchair Theologian.
On a side note, it should be obvious to anyone that if Westboro’s approach to scripture was true we should expect to see first century Christians protesting the funerals of roman soldiers. If you want to talk about institutionalized depravity Rome had America beat in every category. That being the case, why is it the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13 instead of summarizing Westboro’s approach to the old testament? I don’t pose this to everyone, I just hope a Westboro member ends up reading this question and it gives them something to think about.
Secular thinkers tend to write of Westboro as simply being filled with hate. I don’t think “hate” is specific enough for what’s going on here. In fact, while it may be a factor I don’t think it’s really helpful to go in that direction at all. For example, if you listen to the interview Westboro uses the same theological approach to arrive at agreement with the civil rights. What we have at the core is just a really bad approach to scripture. This approach has caused a lot of people a great deal of pain well beyond the borders of Westboro property and revealed their tradition as an apostasy factory. That should be a warning to all of us.
This was a dark topic so here is a funny video by Lutheran Satire to wrap things up with…