Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is it fair to lump all Baptists together like that?

The members of Westboro Baptist Church are up to their normal evil. On Saturday they engaged in one of their famous homophobic protests at the University of Missouri. They stood outside the basketball arena in conjunction with a home game holding signs proclaiming hatred and violence against gays and lesbians because the entire Missouri football team was scheduled to be recognized at halftime. A few days ago Michael Sam, a star defensive player for Missouri and a NFL prospect, announced that he is gay.

I doubt that news organizations would have reported Westboro's latest antics except for what the students did in response. They turned their backs to the small group of protesters and formed a human shield. Then they sang the Missouri alma mater. So the protesters could not be seen or heard because of the actions of the students.

I really like what those students did. They didn't get in the faces of the Westboro protesters. They didn't make obscene gestures toward them or trade the church members' curses with their own. They simply turned their backs on them and drowned them out. Nice work!

But the main reason I bring up the latest Westboro protest is the way Yahoo Sports reported it. Assistant Editor Kyle Ringo didn't mention the name of the church in his article on the incident. Apparently he didn't want to give the Westboro folks any of the attention that they obviously sought. 

I initially saw the news about the protest at Yahoo Sports and I assumed that Westboro was behind it. However, I had to go to other news outlets to confirm this.  

I can't blame Ringo for attempting to deny Westboro another moment in the spotlight. I would be for nearly anything that thwarts the group in its hateful agenda. However, I'm concerned that Ringo might have unwittingly lumped all Baptists with Westboro Baptist in his approach.

Consider this line from the article: "Members of a Baptist church stood outside the arena holding signs that condemned the community's and school's support for Sam." In an article that nowhere mentions the specific church, Ringo's approach leaves the impression that this sort of activity could be typical of members of any Baptist church.

There is no question that there is plenty of homophobia to go around in many Baptist circles. There has been, unfortunately, no shortage of Baptist leaders who have, in recent years, grabbed headlines for spewing hatred against against the LGBTQ community. That said, is it fair to lump all Baptists with the singularly virulent homophobia of Westboro Baptist Church?  

In a USA Today piece on Saturday's protest, there are photos showing the Westboro protesters carrying signs declaring messages typical of their rallies such as "Death penalty 4 [homosexuals]" and "God hates [homosexuals]." Many, many Baptists do not share such sentiments.

I have a Baptist pastor friend who says that Baptists are like dogs. (Careful, don't jump to any conclusions before I finish his thought.) "If I tell you that I have a dog," he says, "I haven't told you much unless I tell you what kind of dog it is." Dogs come in a multitude of shapes, colors, sizes and personalities and it is much the same with Baptists.

Some Baptists are welcoming and affirming of members of the LGBTQ community. Many Baptists are welcoming but not affirming. Many Baptists are neither welcoming nor affirming.    

On the face of it, I don't think it's fair to lump all Baptists with the members of Westboro Baptist Church because many Baptists abhor their vile strain of homophobia. That said, to the degree that there is any hatred toward the LGBTQ community among Baptists, it is too much. After all, we follow the one who said the Greatest Commandment, the most important thing we do, includes loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus listed no exceptions to this commandment.
Addendum: I emailed this post to Kyle Ringo and he changed the article to include the name of the church.