When the Westboro Baptists came to Upper Big Branch

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a side note from the coverage of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion.  From the New York Times we learn that the Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas church best known for its ongoing protest of homosexuality by protesting the funerals of dead soldiers.  The logic being that God hates gays and therefore is punishing the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality by killing its soldiers.  (Because obviously being in a war has nothing to do with the deaths of soldiers.)  The inconsistencies in that argument aside, the church and its leader Fred Phelps have sought out the media spotlight by being as shocking as possible and then pressing their first amendment rights.

In this light they’ve turned their sights to West Virginia.  From this New York Times story we get the addled thought process that’s led them to step into the tragedy at Upper Big Branch.  This time though, it’s not tolerance of gays that led to tragedy.  No, it’s much more focused on the Westboro Baptist Church.  The miners at Upper Big Branch died because the church had received threats from West Virginia about an upcoming trip to that state.  The take away quote from the church’s statement:

“So God reached down and smacked one of those mines, killing 25 (and likely four more are dead),” it said. “Now you moan and wallow in self-pity, and pour over the details of the dead rebels’ lives, pretending they’re heroes.”

This is not new though.  The church did the same thing after the Sago mine disaster in 2006.

While I’m certainly giving them the exposure they are so desperate for, you have to admit that their methods are effective.  Honestly, it’s difficult to ignore such bottom feeders when they rise up to the surface and assert themselves so blatantly.  To interrupt funerals, a matter of collective mourning and closure that is at the same time infinitely private, is the very portrait of hubris.  Perhaps the only thing that can break the taboo is hatred and an unyielding belief that those in mourning and those dead are not worthy of the observance of the most basic protocols, not mourning or condolences, but simple silence.

As I thought over the church’s statement today I realized what was so shocking to me was not the blindly projected hatred, which is its standard, but the hubris as it broke into absurdity.  In this instance, the reason for this disaster is that someone somewhere in West Virginia “threatened” the Westboro Baptist Church.  God is, apparently, at their beck and call, yet incapable of a targeted strike.  Those mourning are not victims, but criminals in the eyes of God apparently for not policing their neighbors to keep them from insulting the Westboro Baptist Church.  And the miners themselves are rebels against the church’s “holy” cause: self-aggrandizement.

If they are rebels for this, let mine be a life of rebellion.

It is an absurdity that certainly cuts deep, but maybe it’s one that can bind too.  So odious a group is also capable of breaking boundaries including the political spectrum of right and left and create simpler definitions.  Basic humanity versus self-deluded fools.  Proof?  I found myself on the same side as Bill O’Reilly who recently offered to pay the court fees of Albert Snyder, the father of a slain soldier whose funeral was the site of a protest by the church.  Politically, I don’t have much in common with Bill O’Reilly, but I applaud this motion.

According to the Charleston Gazette the communal motion the Westboro Baptist Church inadvertently breeds is alive and well.  Counter protests are being planned (and likely have already taken place) in light of Phelps’ church’s continued rallies in the state.  As the article notes:

Those sponsors include groups that don’t often work together, Weinstein said — “the state Chamber of Commerce, the University of Charleston, the religious community, various nonprofit organizations, veterans’ groups.

“So out of something ugly, something very beautiful is happening. The fabric of our community is being woven more tightly together.”


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