Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fall From Grace. (2007) K. Ryan Jones

Years ago my wife and I were in downtown Atlanta when we drove past a sight that so throttled us we needed to pull the car over for further eyeballing. It's a sight that seems more common in the past few years. It leaves me queasy and nauseous, and with a crackling ache in my belly. A group of people holding picket signs were jeering and shouting, slowing down traffic on an urban corner -- by no means a unique picture in any downtown city setting. However, this group was unique in that their sad and sickened message carried with it the most vile and contemptuous hate-filled speech, which they backed up with Biblical scripture. They said they knew a Jesus and a God who hates people.

I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time. We wanted to get out of the car and challenge them, but we knew it wasn't even worth the effort with their locked-in minds and zombie-like lack of critical thinking skills. We left in silence and sadness. It's a day I'll never forget.

Centering in on less than fifteen verses from a thousands-verse filled holy book, and ruling out history, political context and original language and intent, the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas is an inflammatory, hate-filled, war-mongering klan that seeks to rid the entire planet of homosexuality. It's their one-note song, their one-hit wonder. They don't seem able to take a stand on anything else.

The means to their end is provocation, anger, heaping loads of blame and shame on "the other" -- all of this for the so-called cause of Christ. Their protest banners alone spew as much exclusivist and bigoted intolerance as the words that leak from their mouths, which bring a stench to unfortunate passers-by.

This isn't an exaggeration -- I couldn't make this stuff up. Outside the church in Topeka hangs an upside-down American flag by a banner on a church exterior which reads "godhatesamerica.com". Their picket signs in protests read:

"God Hates Fags,"
"Prepare to Meet Thy God,"
"Fags Die God Laughs,"
"Fags Burn in Hell,"
"You're Going to Hell,"
"Fags are Worthy of Death,"
"Fags Doom Nations,"
"America is Doomed,"
"Thank God for 9/11,"
"God Hates You,"
"God is Your Enemy,"
"God Hates Your Tears,"

and, "Thank God For IEDs," a reference to belief that soldiers killed in Iraq are God's justification for an exploded bomb in their church building.

The group has been known to show up at funerals of deceased soldiers coming home from Iraq in a box. They claim victory in this, too, as God is judging a too tolerant military.

A church song at the front of the documentary contains lyrics describing the group as militant. They march for their cause, battling for "the Right." "Sound the battle cry!" the choir belts out with piano accompaniment. "Raise the standard high for the Lord... Onward, Soldiers, around the banner!"

Their militancy and willingness to use war lingo in describing their cause is perhaps scarier than the attack on the sin of others. That they're attacking the sin of the sinner, rather than the sin of any believer -- including their own sin -- is a hard one to wrap the brain around. (Don't sinners naturally sin? Aren't the "saved" supposed to be the righteous ones, and not the sinners?)

In a post-Oklahoma City and 9/11 era we need closer scrutiny for such dangerous and hate-fueled religious and political fervor.

Like the Pharisees in Jesus' day, the group seeks out the sin in others and doesn't dare take an inward glance. I wonder if anyone in the group has ever masturbated. It's a certainty they all wear clothes with fabrics that Levitical texts discourage. The same Old Testament verses they use to rail against homosexuality also talk about the clothes they're wearing themselves. Masturbation and avoidance of women during their monthly period would also apply, along with countless other sin issues the group avoids, while zeroing in on their favorite.

(The above verses aren't even commandments for the contemporary Christian, but were guidelines for a specific nation at a specific time, during perhaps the only recorded Theocracy.)

"Pastor" Fred Phelps and his small band of loud followers, comprised primarily of close family members, are obsessed with a curse on our nation. It's a curse I just don't see. What I do see is a clan of bigots who have good-sized houses, nice cars, swimming pools, well-fed children, picnic lunches with leftovers for later, and decent designer clothes to wear. Their finger-pointing chants of doom and gloom ring hollow in the midst of their western riches. How much money they've given or time they've spent with the sick and the poor, much less the scorned homosexual, is unknown, but considering the hellish desire they have for the rest of the planet it's a given that it can't be much.

But perhaps this so-called curse on our land is still coming; all this homosexuality in America is the beginning of the end. The group should read yesterday's posting in this very blog on the global Collapse already in motion. I'm sure they'd juice themselves in excitement over that nightmarish apocalyptic prophecy.

The doc is filmically excellent. It's informative and fair with its time to voices both in the church and in opposition. The film itself comes off more like a Hell House than a Jesus Camp in its objective representation of all views, but it's similar to both in that we see living and breathing "Christian" people more concerned with powering over their opponents than saving or serving the "lost."

I'd like to see Phelps or any of his followers washing a homosexual's feet instead of holding up protest signs. That might be closer to a hint of any real Christian message. Otherwise the group only perpetuates fear, division and hate -- things that Jesus, as I've come to understand him, doesn't represent.

One of the signs Phelps held tightly to in a protest read, "Too Late to Pray." It's a reference to his belief that homosexuality is unique, a sin that one cannot repent of. Hey, Fred -- if it's too late to even pray and there's no means to your desired repentance, why should a homosexual even bother trying to change -- for you, him, or anyone else? And why are you still standing there with your antagonizing sign?

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