Saturday, 5 March 2011

Religious Hatred

BBC News excerpt dated 2 March, 2011

“US Supreme Court allows anti-gay funeral protests as members of the Westboro Baptist Church travelled from their base in Kansas to the funeral site [of US soldier killed in Iraq, 2006] , alerted local police of their planned protest and picketed peacefully, on public land, in accordance with police guidance. For about 30 minutes before the funeral began, the protesters marched with signs reading: "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", "You're Going to Hell" and "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11".

When you are dead-wrong, it usually means that you are so incorrect in your thinking that it often leads to a demise that may include others as well. Dead-right can be is exactly the same thing. It means that while you may be 100% sure that your decision may be correct in one specific application but may result in fall-out in other areas and thus bring more harm than good for people in general. Here’s a simple analogy. You are driving through a busy intersection and have the right-of-way. Suddenly you see a car approaching at high speed to your immediate right – should you proceed without slowing down because you are 'in the right’ or should you slow down to see if the approaching vehicle will come to a stop before you collide? You decide to test your ‘right of way’. In a subsequent court case filed by your descendants your rights will be up-held. But remember you won’t be around to celebrate that victory. You and the victims of the accident were therefore both dead-wrong!

A recent ruling by the the US Supreme Court giving a fundamentalist anti-gay church the right to picket military funerals under the US constitution's free speech protections seems to qualify under the dead-right category. The court ruled 8-1 for the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, throwing out an earlier $5m judgement awarded to the father of a fallen US Marine. Members carried signs denouncing the US for its tolerance of homosexuality. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “church members' speech cannot be limited ‘simply because it is upsetting’. Church members, led by the Reverend Fred Phelps, have picketed outside numerous military funerals to draw attention to their view that US military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are punishment for the immorality of Americans, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.”

The basis for the US Supreme Court decision  read as follows: “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

Was this a debate? How can the protest by members of the Phelps family against the grieving family of the fallen soldier be considered a proper debate? At the very least a debate must be considered a discussion of a proposition between two matched sides in a pre-arranged and regulated form. The actions of the Phelps family hardly qualified under these widely accepted criteria. Lone dissenting justice Samuel Alito wrote “the First Amendment to the constitution does not grant the right intentionally to inflict emotional distress on private figures. Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a licence for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalisation of innocent victims."

While the US Court also dismissed an earlier judgment of $5m to the grieving father of the victim it exposed the problem of trying to equate money with the value of a precious human life. Would the 'silencing of religious hatred'  not have been more humane and effective in the long run?

Readers of this blog will now have to decide for themselves whether the court is dead-right or dead-wrong. Remember there will be fall-out. There will be repercussions based on this court decision which could affect the entire US nation with similar messages of religious hatred in the future. How will it serve or benefit its citizens, including the Phelps family, in the long run. The Phelps family firmly believes that homosexuality is wrong and that God hates homosexuals. Together the Phelps family make up a small community of twenty or so in Kansas. They have built a small church and own and operate a printing shop where they create their controversial materials and posters (see samples above).

As Christians living in a democratic world, we are pretty much free to celebrate our belief in Jesus Christ in many of its established forms. Throughout history these forms often lead to conflict resulting in much pain, suffering and death. Considering the common unconditionally loving creator we say we all share; it is difficult to explain how and why we are still so intolerant of others and their beliefs even to the point of unbridled hatred. Perhaps it’s because we failed to find God within ourselves and others. Or, perhaps it’s because we have not understood what it is to love unconditionally. More likely it is because we fear that we are not loved or capable of love. Fear is probably the one key factor that continues to bring so much suffering into the world.

It is fear of change, new ideas and those we do not know understand or who are simply different from us that separate us from new evolutionary concepts and each other. We have simply not learned to embrace change, ideas and strangers in all their diversity and complexity. The decision by the US Court illustrates how this decision on freedom of speech can trump the ability of people to love and respect others and themselves. The same condition applies to those who believe that homosexuality is something to be condemned and feared.
Mich Albom, popular inspirational author of books such as  Tuesdays with Morrie, and Five People You Meet in Heaven recently summarized this unfortunate event as follows: . .. . the Supreme Court just made a decision that blesses Westboro, which hates this country, and curses the Snyders, who love it.

It has been said that two wrongs don’t make a right - in the case of the US Court decision and the Phelps family we can see how fear instead of love governs so much of our everyday lives.

UPDATE:  March 14, 2011  from Fr. Richard Rohr for the First Sunday of Lent  

Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system, ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul. You see, therefore, why the church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the “least of the brothers and sisters,” and even to the enemy. Jesus was not just a theological genius, but he was also a psychological and sociological genius. When any church defines itself by exclusion, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ.

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but the fullness of Jesus himself. We need them for our own conversion.

The Church is always converted when the outcasts are re-invited back into the temple. You see this in Jesus’ commonly sending marginalized people that he has healed, back into the village, back to their family, or back to the temple to “show themselves to the priests.” It is not just for their re-inclusion and acceptance, but a ctually for the group itself to be renewed.

Do Homophobians  such as the group from Westboro Baptist Church actually understand what it means to be a Christian??? 

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