Summary: Respect and honor that is due our military is not about supporting the war, it is about showing the love of God.
Not this past week, but the week before I was sitting in my study one morning and as is normally my habit, I was reading the news on the Internet. As I scanned the headlines CNN had one that caught my attention. It said, “Church ordered to pay $10.9 million.” That is enough to catch any pastor’s attention.
I clicked on it and then began to read. The story was about protests at military funerals and it made my blood boil. I can’t even begin to tell you how angry it made me.
As I read the story I vaguely remember hearing something about protests at military funerals back around the first of the year. I just assumed at that time that people were protesting the war in Iraq and didn’t think much more about it at the time. That would have been bad enough, but this was far worse. Fred Phelps and the membership of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas have been protesting at military funerals saying that the deaths of soldiers have been God’s punishment on America for tolerance of homosexuality. The 10.9 million dollar award was given to the family of one of these soldiers where a protest had taken place. The protesters were holding up signs and shouting words that were much the same, “God hates America” and “God hates gays” and their statements escalated from there. Funeral services for Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder were disrupted. The family decided to sue Westboro and the $10.9 million judgment was the result. The church’s pastor, following the trial said, “This is nothing but the government trying to tell preachers what they can preach.” The church also claims that a funeral is a public gathering and as such their protest is protected by the constitution and the right to free speech.
I know that some of you have already read a brief synopsis of my feelings on this issue last week on my blog. But, with Veteran’s Day, I just didn’t feel that I could leave it at that.
If this really was just about telling preachers what they could preach, I would align myself with Fred Phelps, the pastor at Westboro, even if I didn’t agree with what he was saying. After all, if the government was going into his church and restricting what he could and couldn’t say from the pulpit, I would say that was absolutely wrong and well outside the scope of the government’s authority. But, it is not about what Mr. Phelps is preaching. It is clearly about common decency. It is about respect. It is about love.
Let’s take a bit of a closer look at all of this. First of all is a geo-political statement. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are God’s punishment on America for tolerance of homosexuality.” They argue that God brought us into the war to punish us. Now, I don’t know where you stand on the war, nor do I really care. This is not about the war. The decision to go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan was made by the leaders of this country for reasons, whether right or wrong, whether you agree with the reasons or disagree with the reasons, reasons we may not even understand, because they thought it was the right thing to do. Please, I didn’t say it was the right thing, I said for what they believed to be the right thing. Each of us have to make up our own mind as to whether we believe them to be right or wrong. This is not about the war.
Second, equally true, this is not about homosexuality. Again, I am not asking you to tell me what you think about homosexuality. As far as I am concerned, for the point of this message it doesn’t matter. What matters is that a group of people, under the umbrella of the church are making statements that are intended to ignite passions within people.
Third, is a part of their message that I believe any Christian would have to believe to be totally wrong. “God hates America” and “God hates homosexuals?” is just bad theology and I believe is a total affront to the God I know and worship. God doesn’t hate anybody. God doesn’t hate the people on either side of the war. God doesn’t hate homosexuals. And, I pray, God doesn’t hate Americans. God may hate, no that is probably a bit strong, God may dislike some of the things we do. God may cry at some of the decisions we make. But, God does not hate his children.
Unfortunately, the behavior of the members of Westboro is really not something that is new. For many reasons the war in Vietnam was one of the darkest times in the history of our country. But, the biggest dark mark of that era was when soldiers and sailors in uniform were spit on and called horrible names. I believe Westboro to be a continuation of that tradition. These are young people whether the military person of the Vietnam era or the military person whose funeral is interrupted by protests who were just following orders. None of it was their idea and yet they seem to be the people that extremists are trying to hold accountable.