Friday, December 10, 2010

“God hates fags” and “Thank you for dead soldiers” – What comes next

A Reflection from Max Niedzwiecki

Ryan Newell was arrested on December 2nd when he was accused of stalking members of a church armed with an M4 rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a .38 Smith and Wesson pistol.  He was released from jail yesterday to await trial on December 16th.

Why have people from all over the country voiced support for Ryan?  He lost both legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan while serving in the Army.  And he was stalking members of the Westboro Baptist Church, famous for traveling long distances just to hold up signs at military funerals saying “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” (and is currently threatening to protest at the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards). According to Westboro, God punishes America because America doesn’t punish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people harshly enough.

Again we see people who call themselves Christians defying God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Pat Robertson of the 700 Club claimed that gays and other people he doesn’t like were responsible for the September 11th attacks and other disasters.  And yet, according to his website, the 700 Club can still be seen in 96% of American homes, is carried on the ABC Family Network and many other mainstream stations, has been aired in more than 100 languages in 200 countries, and is accessible to more than 1.5 billion people around the world.

Mr. Robertson isn’t alone.  U.S.-based radical fundamentalists have spread their message of hate around the world.  They are largely responsible for the “hang the gays” Bahati Bill that Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and his colleagues have fought so bravely to defeat in Uganda.

 There is no denying that, despite the incredible strides made by the Episcopal Church and some others recently, we are surrounded by people who call themselves Christians and yet ignore Christ’s commandment to put love before all else.  The hate-mongers might be in a minority, but only the most radical of them – like the Westboro Baptist Church people – are outside of the mainstream of American life.

My heart breaks for Ryan Newell.  I have not experienced the kind of traumatic injury he has, but like many people who have been discriminated against I have felt bewildered, humiliated and angry, and I have struggled to figure out what I should do with those feelings.

I just had the privilege to spend a few days with Bishop Christopher during his visit to New Orleans, and I asked him how we as Christians should react when we are discriminated against.  His answer: People will react differently – some with anger, some with shame or fear, others in different ways.  You need to see your feelings for what they are, and not try to pretend they are not there.  You need to read the Bible, because it nourishes you in ways you do not understand, just as the food you eat nourishes you.  You need to share your heart with others.  And you need to always remember the commandment to put love before everything else.

When we say that “God is love,” we sometimes get a rosy glow.  “Love” sounds so simple and sweet.  In real life, though, loving God and our neighbors as we must is often the most difficult and complicated thing.  In fact, without God’s grace it is impossible. 

Max Niedzwiecki is Executive Director of Integrity USA

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