The news this past week has been dominated by the shooting in Tucson.  A gunman opened fire at a political event, killing 6 individuals, and severely wounding a US Representative.

In the aftermath, previous shootings come to mind, including Columbine and the Nickel Mines school shootings, probably the two most infamous in recent history.

As in Nickel Mines, a young girl has lost her life.  Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who attended the event out of a nascent interest in politics, was shot and died later in hospital.

And again as in the case of Nickel Mines, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas has announced plans to picket the funeral.  Westboro’s angle is to use heavily-visible funerals, typically involving high-profile deaths (ie, school shootings or war casualties), to gain publicity for their “message”.  That message, as far as I can tell, seems to be God’s supposed hatred of everything from soldiers to Jews to homosexual individuals.

Frankly, I have trouble understanding this group, which seems to be more a publicity-hungry band of extremists than anything else.  The protests have been called off, however.  A pair of radio hosts have given air time to Westboro in exchange for an agreement to not picket victims’ funerals.

This repeats the move of one of the hosts, Mike Gallagher, who gave air time to the same group in order to prevent them picketing the Nickel Mines girls’ funerals in 2006.  At that time, they condemned the Amish for “creat[ing] their own form of righteousness” and the entire state of Pennsylvania for the governor’s previous criticism of Westboro itself.

The radio offer has been controversial.  Some have questioned the wisdom of giving Westboro a much expanded audience over the airwaves.  But apparently Gallagher is confident that the group will be “exposed for exactly who they are”.

I would probably agree with the move, if only for the sake of the victims’ families.  Westboro’s message, (to the degree that you can find a coherent message) seems a perversion, or inversion, of Christian beliefs: hating the sinner.   In this case, “sinners” are those who Westboro deems worthy of their hatred–including the world’s 1 billion Catholics, Barack Obama, and the country of Italy.

In Westboro’s eyes, there is a lot of hate to go around.  Whatever they are, it’s hard to see how they can be called a “church”, or at least not one within the Christian tradition.


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