â€˜Erm â€¦ well, God DOES like fags â€¦ a bit â€¦ no, a lot , actually’
USING the same tone of revulsion it normally reserves for occasional reports of deadly exotic spiders emerging from store-bought hands of bananas, the media last week subjected those 11-toed freaks from the Westboro BaptistÂ Church in Topeka, Kansas, to levels of scrutiny they rarely get the UK.
All this attention put British evangelicals in a very uncomfortable place. They were forced to look into a mirror, and were horrified by what they saw.
For what was reflected back at them was not a parody of their own intolerance, but a public display of hatred that they, themselves, have been cultivating for centuries – albeit without the goofy inbred grins, the infantile excitement, and the trashy bright posters which make WBC pickets uniquely revolting.
What followed was an undignified scramble by a panic-struck pack of fundies to put as much distance between themselves and the WBC.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Evangelical Alliance UK, Faithworks, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church and Bible Society-funded think-tank Theos jointly declared:
We are dismayed that members of Westboro Baptist Church (based in Kansas, USA and not associated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain) might picket the performance of The Laramie Project in Basingstoke on Friday. We do not share [Westboro’s] hatred of lesbian and gay people. We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities.
Neither the style nor substance of their preaching expresses the historic, orthodox Christian faith. And we ask that the members of Westboro Baptist Church refrain from stirring up any more homophobic hatred in the UK or elsewhere.
Oh my, steady on guys! You can’t just dump centuries of carefully-nurtured prejudice at the drop of a cassock without looking like complete planks!
This was clearly a knee-jerk reaction born out of sheer fright – as pathetic as it was amusing. Many immediately demanded to know what these outfits, which have invested so much time and effort in demonising homosexuality – arguably to an even greater degree than the WBC -now intended doing about putting their own houses in order.
Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said:
It is welcome that a number of churches and evangelical groups have made a public statement and joined the many others who are opposing Westboro Baptist church-style hate speech. But it is relatively easy to issue statements against extremists, distance oneself, and condemn them. It is more challenging, and uncomfortable, to acknowledge what one might have in common with those we find abhorrent â€¦
This is the real challenge that Westboro Baptist Church presents. And among those who have condemned Westboro are some who preach rejection of faithful gay relationships, who deny their baptism and Christian ministry, and who refuse their wisdom. Some have attempted to negotiate opt-outs from equalities legislation so they can themselves discriminate against lesbian and gay people in employment and in the provision of goods and services. The Evangelical Alliance in particular removed the Courage Trust from its membership when the Trust made a Christian commitment to affirming lesbian and gay people.
The six churches and groups have said with one voice: â€˜We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation’. We invite them to reflect these words in their actions.
Today, in a move which could be the signal of the start of a more rational and humane attitude towards homosexuality among Christian conservatives, four evangelical groups issued a statement, in which they welcomed the earlier condemnation of the WBC:
This is indeed good news for all in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, but beneath this rejection of open hatred towards homosexuals, there is a much deeper issue which groups like the Evangelical Alliance still have to face.
We would now call upon these groups to reflect on their own attitudes and prayerfully consider what their â€˜hate the sin, love the sinner’ teaching does to the minds and souls of faithful Christians who are gay.
This well rehearsed mantra clearly enables some evangelical groups to reject the â€˜God hates fags’ approach of Westboro Baptists, but â€¦to hide behind such a mantra in regard to sexual orientation simply ignores the damaging messages which it sends, both to gay Christians struggling with their identity, and to the world beyond which simply hears it as a call to reject, or worse, an excuse to harm gay men and women.