America’s favorite villans, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, have committed through press release to visit my sleepy neck of the woods: Panama City, FL. They have three large churches, Tyndall Air Force Base, and Bay High School in their incoherent sights.
Some well-meaning souls have planned peaceful counter pickets against them. Instead of “God hates dead soldiers” posters, “God Loves You” posters and the like. Instead of handing out condemnation, handing out reconciliation and a bottle of water.
The local media, for the most part, has taken a discerning stance: Ignoring is the best policy. The less press WBC gets the less likely they even come. Half of the “church” has law degrees. These aren’t just a few dozen ignorant sheep being duped by one shady wolf patriarch. Most of them know exactly what they’re doing to maximize public and monetary impact.
So much is wrong about WBC’s message. So much is wrong about WBC’s tactics. Namely, everything.
But my anger can only go so far with that maligned family. The temporary spike in blood pressure inevitably gives way to a lingering sadness.
Not just for Fred Phelps.
On my worst (and maybe even best) days I have a little incoherent red-faced Fred Phelps bottled up inside me.
A little Westboro Baptist Church trouncing and soap boxing around my cerebral cortex.
Sure, I dress it up and mask it better than they do. I’ve figured out how to soften my critical spirit with just a careless glance or unspoken thought. My personal mode of self-expression would be seen as socially acceptable by the majority.
But I have my own sick fascination with the Law’s demands, especially when applying it to others. Grace is not the default mode of my life projection, and it’s easier to speak as a distant armchair prophet than get dirty as an involved burden sharer and fellow sinner.
I have my own knee jerk judgments:
That people have the audacity not to live out my strict interpretation of the law and Christian ethic.
That my preferential truth is the standard God adopts to judge others.
That mercy is something I love to receive yet rarely express.
The WBC doesn’t just highlight how so many modern expressions of the “church” are un Christlike. If anything, the WBC highlights how un Christlike I am. We may reject their message while simultaneously rejecting any claim to our own self-righteousness.
The distance between opposing picket lines is narrow as a sidewalk. And it’s wide as an ocean.
Only grace that separates, and reconciles, those two ends of the same fallen human spectrum.