In a perfect world, Westboro Baptist Church members would bring their “God Hates Everybody Who Disagrees With Us” campaign to Louisville, and people would ignore them.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. The press can’t ignore the Westboro troops. This Topeka church is news. The Supreme Court just last week reaffirmed their First Amendment right to be ugly even during soldiers’ funerals. So when four members of the group decided Sunday to protest at St. Lawrence Church, apparently picking the location for its sin of being on the way to the airport, it’s nice to think they’d go away if we didn’t pay attention. But somebody is always paying attention, and they won’t go away.
Westboro’s bunch was in Kentucky to protest churches in Owensboro after the suicide of a young man who was sexually abused. It was a tragic death and we’re all still reeling from these hidden abuses, although none so much as the victims. Westboro’s efforts to co-opt the issue seems like little more than publicity seeking by this media savvy group.
The Courier Journal covered the Louisville protest, and the photo on the front of the Metro section showed protestors with happy signs like “All You Need Is Love.” But the jump on B6 told a different tale. An anti-Westboro woman yells in apparent anger and people hold up signs that say, “WBC will burn in hell” and “God Hates Westboro Baptist.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. If anti-WBC troops protestors don’t want to play Tweedle Dum to Westboro’s Tweedle Dee, they need a better message. Signs with hearts saying God is Love is one idea. But far more effective would be something more dada-esque. The idea is to stage a celebration that accepts that good people can’t ignore the Westboro tribe, yet subversively aggressively ignores them.
My suggestion: A dance party.
Stage a celebration everywhere that Westboro shows up. Surely there are bands that would volunteer to lead people in spontaneous party. Or if not a dance party, how about a Frisbee throwing contest, with dogs and children and balloons? The purpose would be to overwhelm the ugliness with human spirit. Of course, a raucous celebration wouldn’t work at a soldier’s funeral, one of Westboro’s favorite targets. But imagine the impression that united hymn-singing church choirs would make, not only on the mourners, but in the media. It would go a long way to drowning out the ugliness from Topeka.
So time to rethink our response to uglies. You can’t outshout them. But you can out smart them.
Photo: Courtesy Footloose