Image courtesy of Pablo Gonzales
As some of you may already know, Westboro Baptist Church visited Waco last Sunday, September 10. Westboro Baptist Church is based out of Topeka, Kansas and has been widely denounced by Christian organizations (such as World Baptist Alliance, the Southern Baptist Convention, and others) for their hateful ideologies. A central part of WBC’s doctrine is the idea that “God hates f*gs” (see their website name, godhatesfags.com). The way they spread this “theology” is by protesting at soldier’s funerals, spreading hate through speech, and attributing tragedies (such as 9/11 or Hurricane Harvey) to God’s hate and punishment for sin. They regularly travel the country to protest, saying that they wish to spread the message of God’s hate and condemnation.
On Sunday morning, Westboro Baptist Church protested outside of Antioch Community Church and St. Louis Catholic Church. They posted a press release online explaining their reasons for protesting, though its message is embedded in deeply religious phrases and seemingly obscure Bible verses (link: http://www.godhatesfags.com/fliers/20170828_Waco-TX-Churches.pdf). The document first asserts that Waco churches are enemies of God because they are not facing persecution. Furthermore, WBC says that the churches of Waco “gladly and greedily justify their sisters Sodom and Samaria,” which is presumably in reference to allowing homosexuality. The press release states that Waco churches have succumbed to the fear of men and thus abandoned all talk of “Sodom.” The document pronounces a “double woe” to the churches, as they have also exhibited pride in committing these sins. Essentially, it seems they are saying that Waco churches are cursed for not preaching the same idea of God’s anger that Westboro Baptist holds so dear.
The protesters were toting numerous signs boasting different slogans, such as “Obey and Seek Mercy” and “God Sent [Hurricane] Harvey.” Each sign was accompanied by a Scripture verse, which is what I wish to draw attention to. Westboro Baptist claims to be doing God’s work by “spreading God’s hate,” and a large part of this perceived power comes from their use of the Biblical narrative. It seems as if Scripture justifies and even encourages their ideas. Rather, I argue that they are taking verses out of context and therefore misrepresenting Scripture and the message of the Gospel.
Obey and Seek Mercy – Proverbs 14:22, Nehemiah 9:17
A sign which read “Obey and Seek Mercy” cited both Proverbs 14:22 and Nehemiah 9:17. Proverbs 14:22 reads, “Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.” By itself, this verse can be used as a vague condemnation for evil, though when it is put into context it becomes clear the kind of evil to which the verse refers. Proverbs 14:21 says that “whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” So, if we are to obey these verses, we are to love our neighbor and care for those around us, which logically would include people in LGBTQ communities.
The same sign references Nehemiah 9:17. In Nehemiah 9, Israel is confessing and repenting of their sins following a period of rebellion. Nehemiah 9:17 states, “They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” I think the second part of this verse is particularly interesting, as it clearly states that God is ready to forgive and merciful. This idea of God as loving and slow to anger is in direct opposition to the God WBC presents.
God Sent Harvey/Irma – Psalm 126:6, Nahum 1:3
Westboro had a few signs attributing Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma to God as well. WBC cites Psalm 126:6 in the sign, which says: “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126 is a psalm of lament, in which the community is asking God to show mercy on His people. The psalmist remembers the good things God has done and asks Him to “restore [their] fortunes.” Presumably, Westboro added this onto the sign as a way of asking God for mercy on behalf of the nation. Though, this does not explain why they believe God sent the hurricanes.
Nahum 1:3 talks about God’s wrath against Nineveh, saying “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” It seems that Westboro has interpreted this verse as evidence that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish the guilty with His wrath. Westboro has made other, similar claims about 9/11 and natural disasters, saying that God sent these things to condemn America for being sinful or accepting sin. The thing that these claims fail to recognize is that these events do not only affect “sinners,” but they affect Christians, too.
In the Old Testament, wrath was a way in which God showed His people their injustice and sin. The New Testament is very clear that believers are saved from God’s wrath through Jesus. The difference is that in the Old Testament, God’s people entered into a covenant with God through the Law, which led to punishment from God when they (in their sin nature) broke the law. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 7:7-13 that God must punish people for breaking the covenant, which is why Old Testament believers faced His wrath. However, the New Testament and the new covenant do not result in punishment from God, because Jesus took all of God’s wrath when He died on the cross. Romans 1:17 says that the “righteous live by faith,” opposed to living by the Law. This idea is repeated in Galatians 5:18 and Paul says in Romans 5:9 that believers are justified through Christ’s blood and that we are saved from God’s wrath (which is echoed in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9). Therefore, believers do not receive God’s wrath for their sin and wrongdoing, because we are saved through Jesus’ death and not by our good works. Because of this, it is false to say that God sent Hurricane Harvey to punish us.
Jesus Will Return in Wrath – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
The verses WBC selected read: “And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” In context, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica, which has endured much persecution but has remained loyal to Christ (verses 3-4). Paul reassures them that when Jesus returns, He will enact justice and repay those who persecute the church with affliction. Paul says that all those who believed in the gospel through the testimonies of the apostles will marvel at Christ and, ultimately, be saved from judgement through His grace. The passage does not depict a wrathful God who is acting out in anger, but a just God who is establishing righteousness.
Westboro Baptist’s message that God hates us and is punishing us is not truth because the authority they derive from the Bible is taken out of context and does not consider the Gospel and Jesus’ earthly ministry. While it is abundantly clear throughout Scripture that God hates sin, He does not hate sin because he is a wrathful God. He hates sin because he is a righteous God who desires righteousness for His people. The message of the Gospel is one of restoration, grace, and forgiveness. However, Westboro Baptist Church uses the Bible as a tool by which to condemn and hate others. It is clear to me that they are simply a hate group which has hijacked the Bible in an attempt to justify their beliefs.
Nikki Thompson is a Junior majoring in Professional Writing and Rhetoric with a minor in Religion.