Westboro Baptist Church is picketing the workplace of Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. The virtually universally loathed group, known for protesting anything from the funerals of American soldiers to the San Diego Comic-Con, leveled a new accusation that Davis was likely surprised to hear: that she “caused fag marriage.”
Davis entered into the national spotlight when she repeatedly refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act. She claimed to do this in religious objection, though her religious freedoms do not actually include a right to take away the freedoms of gays and lesbians.
Since then, Davis has remained obstinate when it comes to carrying out her job duties even as she cashes her paychecks. Despite her devotion to the anti-gay cause, the Westboro Baptist Church has put her in their sights as the next target on their whistle-stop tour of bigotry and obnoxiousness. How can two ardent fighters for the same cause turn on one another?
Most Christians believe, in accordance with the Bible, that all “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” [Romans 3:23]. Jesus himself said to a group gathering to stone an adulterer to death, “whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her,” [John 8:7]. The angry mob dispersed in response to his message of grace and forgiveness.
The Bible makes clear we are not to cast judgement against one another because we are all guilty of sinning, and “…the wages of sin is death…” [Romans 6:23]. Essentially, we are all in the same imperfect boat. This makes the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of Kim Davis particularly odd given that they both claim to subscribe to the tenets of Christianity.
Westboro Baptist and Righteous Hate
Shirley Phelps-Roper currently speaks for the legally-savvy agitation squad she calls a church. Perplexed reporters asked her why her group would pester a fellow bigot, she brought up the fact that Davis has been married four times, explaining:
“This woman wants to say that her sin isn’t as grievous as the same-sex marriage sin…It’s all sin. It’s all awful. But her sin enabled that sin. When you look up, and all the Christians have given over the moral high ground, what voice do they have left?”
At first glance, this seems to make sense, but a closer look reveals the logical knot in which Westboro has tied itself up. They are seeking the moral high ground for the purpose of judging and condemning others. Biblically speaking, the moral high ground is hardly an attainable goal – and we shouldn’t cast judgement on someone due to their moral failings.
What’s more ironic, though, is the fact that all members of Westboro would be considered sinners according to their own faith. Re-read Phelps-Roper’s quote about Davis with this in mind. You’ll see it applies to the Westboro folks themselves just as much as to Davis.
The Christian Debate
We all agree that Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme example, and doesn’t accurately represent Christianity as a whole. Most Christians will readily express their disgust with the group. However, is their disagreement one of kind, or of degree? The answer, it turns out, is complicated.
While no other denominations go as far as expressing their objections to homosexuality by thanking God for dead soldiers, many see no issue with stripping the rights of gays and lesbians. Even supposedly “moderate” churches support pettily denying them goods and services such as wedding cakes.
To name just a few: the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention, and the Assemblies of God all consider homosexuality to be fundamentally at odds with their brand of Christianity. Members and outsiders alike are condemned for not conforming to heterosexual norms. Their clergy are prohibited from marrying same-sex couples.
Clearly, the difference between these groups and Westboro is one of degree. They agree on the substance of belief but disagree on how to express it. Unfortunately, these are very vocal groups, which often gives the impression that they speak for the faith in general.
To bring in new members, it may behoove them to dial back their opposition to homosexuality. Studies show that the younger generation tends to steer clear of churches that oppose gay rights. The “Christian-ness” of fellow believers should not be based on the degree of their homophobia. Harsh and vocal Old Testament-style judgment seems to resonate far less with the churchgoing youth of today. Many view this trend as a contributing factor to the high rates of young people abandoning organized Christianity.
Other denominations, however, have moved to at least make same-sex marriage and judgment a non-issue. These include the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Church. Their disagreement with Westboro and others aligns with the biblical view we’ve discussed above. That is to say: if he who is without sin should be the one to cast the first stone, then the stone-throwers ought to pack up, go home, and focus their energy on more important matters.
How to Treat a Sinner
Among Christians, there is nowhere near a consensus on these issues. After all, Christianity is a religion comprised of diverse ideas, people, and mindsets. The conflict we see between Westboro Baptist Church and Apostolic Christian Kim Davis is actually quite routine. They present an extreme example, yes. But extreme examples often help to shed light on inconsistencies that have been lurking beneath the surface, not glaring enough to present themselves. Christians must work to settle this debate once and for all. It boils down to a matter of approach: should Christianity condemn those who have committed sins, or embrace the notion that all of us are sinners? Should judgment be used to police the behavior of others, or should it instead be employed as a means of self-reflection toward one’s own moral improvement?
Where do you stand?