Westboro Baptist Church may have the right to speak their mind, but just like the Cordoba Initiative and the Ground Zero Mosque, having the right to do something doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. What is the right thing to do, and how do we know what that is?
“Right thinking leads to right behavior,” said bestselling author Josh McDowell in an interview Tuesday about his newest release The Unshakeable Truth, with Kerby Anderson on Point of View Radio . McDowell explained that right thinking requires defining what is right and true. Without God’s Word of truth, we have no foundation for rightness; but in today’s postmodern society, people believe that what is right equates to whatever is right for each individual. Rightness has become relative. For the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, (NOT affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention), right behavior is picketing soldiers’ funerals to protest America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
This week the Supreme Court is hearing the case against Westboro filed by Albert Snyder, whose son Matthew died in Iraq in 2006. Members of the church picketed Matthew’s funeral to proclaim their belief that God is punishing Americans for our nation’s immorality – specifically homosexuality and abortion. Westboro’s aversion to homosexuals is evidenced by their “God hates fags” signs, t-shirts and website. The Snyder case addresses the right of the church to protest soldiers’ funerals while using vulgar language and displays.
“When you have a public funeral and you broadcast to the nation that that dead soldier is a hero and that God is blessing America, we will be there and tell you God is cursing America…” said Margie Phelps to Nightline’s Terry Moran. Ms. Phelps, whose father Fred founded the church, is their lead attorney and fanatic, wearing professional dress in the courtroom and a skirted American flag outside its doors.
In this controversial case, the high Court must contemplate the scope of the First Amendment – a daunting issue to be sure. Limiting freedom is a bit of an oxymoron, for true freedom by definition lacks bounds. But did the Founding Fathers intend for citizens to live in unconstrained autonomy, or did they have boundaries in mind? How do we reconcile the right to do something with doing the right thing?
On the one hand, members of Westboro appear to be in favor of boundaries, for Ms. Phelps argued, “This nation has crossed every line of God’s standards.” These words suggest they recognize there are right and wrong things to do – God-given limits to our God-given freedoms.
However on the other hand, Westboro’s core issue is one of freedom of speech without limit, including “wide-open robust public debate up to and including the most outrageous talk.” This unrestrained speech suggests they embrace their right to communicate as guaranteed by the Constitution but ignore God’s instructions for communicating the right things in the right manner:
When Moran asked Ms. Phelps if she and her group liked doing this (protesting), she replied: “Oh, I love it. If you knew how fun….” Yet God’s Word says, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another…” (Galatians 5:26).
Ms. Phelps admits they do not care whose feelings they hurt. Yet God’s Word says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Westboro protestors carry signs that claim “God hates your feelings.” Yet God’s Word says He is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Such signs present a dishonest picture of God to bystanders, thus taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
The zealots spew hate-filled speech and croon hell-centered songs. Yet God’s Word says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”(Galatians 5:22-23).
Notice the last phrase, “against such things there is no law.” There are no limits on bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. That’s because these things are the right things to do. So far as I am aware, no one has been sued for being too kind.
In the end, Ms. Phelps asked Terry Moran, rhetorically, “Who have we persuaded?” The answer is, of course, no one. No one has been persuaded by Westboro’s activism, and nothing has changed. Yet the Phelps clan does not appear dissuaded from its current course of action, but selfishly entertained by it. Like much of America today, Westboro’s primary concern seems to be about maintaining their right to do something, rather than whether or not they are doing the right thing.