Updates: More of the same then?

Two of my pet-gripe issues returned to the news this week. Both these stories demonstrate that Christians are occasionally pretty good at making a mess of things and startlingly bad at cleaning up after themselves. It is particularly surprising when one considers that in both cases the offending parties believe themselves to be doing ‘outreach’, but have succeeded only in offence. Both would claim to want to see sinners repent, yet neither seems to have much of a knack for repentance.

Westboro Baptist

 

Westboro Picket

God hates your feelings, apparently. Good thing for Westboro, since they clearly haven't any

 

The wholesome folk of Westboro Baptist (aka godhatesfags.com) have been spreading the ‘gospel’ at funerals again, telling grieving families how much God hates them and enjoyed killing their children. This time, they were picketing the funeral of a Marine who lost his life in a Humvee accident. According to the ineffable thinking of the Westboro people, America is far too civil towards gay people, therefore God is killing soldiers in order to punish the country for its compromise.

Why it is that God would need to randomly execute some unrelated soldier for the sins of others, and why it is that Westboro would need to grind extra misery into the wounds of the grieving when the deceased is collateral damage — how any of Westboro’s thinking makes any Christian sense — is beyond me.

The father of said Marine claimed for damages and won the case and an amount that seems large enough to cripple Westboro. Unfortunately the verdict was overturned on freedom of speech grounds. Thing about freedom of speech is that you need also to take responsibility for the effect of your words. Spewing hatred at a funeral does genuine damage; I’m all for forcing them to pay genuine damages. If the church doesn’t survive the payout, all the better.

UCT, Atheists and Campus for Christ
After the public spat caused by aggressive blasphemy in a UCT student publication, a debate was scheduled between the atheist community on campus and some local church leaders. The organiser, Michael Nlandu, made a significant enough hash of the preparations to see the event cancelled with only a day to spare. This upset him, and so he spewed much vitriol upon the Atheist Society for their part in the failed event (and for much of his part too).

Yet after blaming the AAS for the blasphemy in the magazine (which they had nothing to do with), after insulting them without provocation in a campus paper, after seeing that they were publicly blamed for the failure in Christian media, and after launching repeated verbal assaults at them over email, he has decided that he is not finished.

He has launched another series of unsubstantiated attacks against the AAS, blaming them for damaging his car and various other things. He’s busy instituting formal proceedings against them even though he has no reason to link them to anything that’s happened other than the fact that they are keeping a public record of his rude correspondence with them.

I have in the past tried to urge him to repent of his accusations and insults, but he accused me of threatening him, and in turn threatened to tell my boss.

I’m sure there are supposed to be qualifications for the pastorate. We just let anybody in these days…

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10 thoughts on “Updates: More of the same then?

  1. Mary says:

    “…demonstrating that Christians are pretty good at making a mess of things and refusing to clean up after themselves.”

    I’d hardly call the folks at Westbro Christians just because that’s the label they give to themselves.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      No sure, but I’m these days of the conviction that anyone who calls himself ‘Christian’ should be treated as such — held to account for his confession. It doesn’t mean that they are Christians, but it’s just a recognition that it’s not really within our powers to know whether someone is regenerate or not. So I do not reserve the label ‘Christian’ for my personal affirmation on someone’s actual Spiritual status, seeing as I can’t know that. All I can know is what someone calls himself. So they’re Christians though they may be false ones.

      • Mary says:

        True. We can’t know for certain whether someone else is Christian in their heart and should give them the benefit of the doubt if they claim to be. But we can certainly say that the Westbro behaviour is not in keeping with the fruit by which Jesus said Christians are to be known. And it’s not in keeping with the behaviour shown by the majority of Christians I know or have met – which is quite a lot of people. So I’m not sure I’d hail it as a demonstration of the way “Christians” (which is understood to be “Christians in general”) mess up. Why use a radical fringe group, that practically nobody but themselves identifies with, as a way to challenge Christians in general? We have other more common faults to be challenged on.

      • Jordan Pickering says:

        Oh, is that what you’re getting at? OK, the comment aimed at Christians is not strongly directed towards Christians in general. Obviously some are good at making amends etc. The only ‘challenge for the rest of us’ that we should take generally from this post is that we must be more serious in standing against Christians who make a mockery of that name by their behaviour. Those who are habitually shaming the rest of us keep getting away with it because the rest of us don’t do an awful lot about it. How Westboro is still calling themselves Christian after 15 years of this is beyond me. That is our inability to ‘clean up’. I’ll edit the line to reflect your wishes :)

      • Mary says:

        Agreed. And thank you. :) I seem to recall reading somewhere that Westbro Baptist is not part of the official Baptist community, although it may have started out that way. We can gripe about them, but there’s not much we can do to take them out of operation without infringing on freedom of speech and the like. And even when it comes to denouncing them, it’s a tricky thing because we want to denounce them so that it’s made clear that their behaviour is not acceptable or in keeping with Christian values, but we also don’t want to give them too much airtime. It’s like the dilemma of whether to verbally chastise a misbehaving child or ignore them so that they realize they’re not getting attention by their bad behaviour.

  2. Hephaestion says:

    Why it is that God would need to randomly execute some unrelated soldier for the sins of others, and why it is that Westboro would need to grind extra misery into the wounds of the grieving when the deceased is collateral damage — how any of Westboro’s thinking makes any Christian sense — is beyond me.

    Beyond you? This is a god who would not blink to kill every man, woman, child and ox, who thinks homosexuality an abomination, and who would have himself, temporarily cast as a human, tortured to death (well, not death in the usual sense). It is not uncommon to hear evangelical Christians proclaim that, wretches that we are, we deserve to die, and it's only through God's grace that He doesn't kill us, and we should be thankful. More to the point, this is a god who HAS punished every one of us (with death, as the story goes) for the sins of others (Eve, specifically) – though not randomly, just vindictively. How can you be sure that God didn't flip that Humvee?

    It follows easily enough that such a capricious, wrathful, bully of a god would do precisely what you seem to have difficulty imagining. But there's more. This is a god who would "allow" (in His Limitless Munificence) unbelievers and unrepentant sinners to suffer an eternity of damnation. This is a god who hides from the microscope and the telescope (and then punishes those who are unable to find His Great Absent Self). This is a god who, upset (and perhaps even offended) by his own creations, decides to kill everyone, and everything, in a Great Flood (while handily saving a few aboard a wooden boat). Such behavior is normally called a tantrum, and is associated with frustration at not getting your own way. What is one more death to such a god?

    The Westboro Baptist Church, as insensitive and cruel as they are, is simply doing what believers all over the world do: invoking God to explain things when God is simply not required, and claiming to know the mind of God. How is this anything more than a lazy indulgence? On the one hand they claim to know what God thinks, and then, without so much as a blush, God becomes inscrutable. And yet who is to say that they are wrong? How do we know that God didn't casually give that Humvee a little flick? How do we know that God isn't offended by anal sex? It is one opinion of the devout against another opinion of the devout, with each side accusing the other of being a "false" Christian.

    Perhaps Christians should stop using God to support their opinions, and start using reason.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Heph. Thanks for reading as always. You have misunderstood my problem here. It is not that I don’t believe God was involved in the death of that soldier or any other death that you care to mention. Of course, if God is the kind of God revealed in the Bible, then he is ultimately overseeing and employing everything that happens in the world.

      The problem I have is related to your claim:

      And yet who is to say that they are wrong? … It is one opinion of the devout against another opinion of the devout, with each side accusing the other of being a “false” Christian.

      If all Christians believed that our knowledge of God was based on our experience or our ability to ‘puzzle him out’, then we could have no complaint about different opinions about God, and we would certainly be unable to speak on his behalf. But we don’t believe this. We believe that God has revealed himself in Jesus and in the Bible, and so there is a standard of faith according to which we are to measure our own beliefs. This also makes it possible to know God’s mind on those things revealed and to speak for him.

      The problem with Westboro then is that they claim to be speaking for God and acting like Christ, and yet they are at total variance with what God reveals of himself. So in short my problem is not that they claim God killed a soldier, but that they claim their attitude and behaviour as being representative of God (when it’s opposite).

      Obviously, in making this argument, I’m relying on the basic belief that God has revealed himself in scripture, which you don’t hold, but we and Westboro should do – but I think you follow that your personal beliefs on the matter are irrelevant here.

      Thank you for keeping the remainder of your tyrade reasonably short ;).

      I agree that Christians should stop using God to justify their opinions. In a roundabout way that’s also what I’m calling for here. The alternative is not non-specifically to apply reason, seeing as that is a dressed-up way of forming more individual opinions about God, and just another route to speaking out of turn.

      If I want to get to know a girl that I like, I listen to her (or if that’s impossible, then I read her autobiography and gauge her personality from there). What I don’t do is imagine what it is I’d like her to be. That is no basis for a relationship, irrespective of how reasonable I think I’m being.

      So what I’m advocating is the application of reason to revelation, which is what we call theology.

      And incidentally, a reasoned reading of revelation concludes against a view of God as capricious, vindictive, bullying, untroubled by death and tantrumming. You may prefer such invectives to justify your opposition to Christianity, but it is an emotional, not a rational, reaction. You’re merely doing what Westboro does: justifying your distaste for x by appealing to a skewed reading of radically selective evidence. I live in hope that you’ll one day approach Christianity (especially the cross) in its own terms, rather than as a hostile intent on saboutage.

      Thanks again for reading.

      • Hephaestion says:

        We believe that God has revealed himself in Jesus and in the Bible, and so there is a standard of faith according to which we are to measure our own beliefs. This also makes it possible to know God’s mind on those things revealed and to speak for him.

        Countless preachers have claimed to know the mind of the God. It’s an easy game to play when no one can prove you wrong. Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard spring to mind.

        While it is true that all Christians, by definition, must believe the same core doctrines, it does not follow that there is a standard for faith. The word itself (faith) has such a loose definition as to be almost meaningless. An ignorant, homophobic, misogynistic blowhard can be a person of extremely deep faith, and so can Francis Collins, intelligent educated, accomplished and thoughtful.

        For Creationists, it seems BELIEF indicates some measure of a person’s faith. The more ridiculous the belief the more faith that person is considered to have – the more faith that person MUST have. Westboro members are clearly of deep and abiding faith – it’s just not your kind of faith.

        And incidentally, a reasoned reading of revelation concludes against a view of God as capricious, vindictive, bullying, untroubled by death and tantrumming.

        It is your claim that anyone who does not interpret the Bible as you do is not reading it properly, is not reading it in the way that you consider “reasoned.” You seem to know not only how one should read the Bible, but also how Christians are expected to behave. Quite some claims.

        One of your stories has it that a man was stoned to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Another has the “LORD thy God” utterly destroying, smiting and showing no mercy to all those under the Amorite king, Sihon. In another, “ox, and sheep, and ass” are included in the destruction. Thomas Jefferson was just stating the obvious when he wrote, The Christian God is a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust. Westboro members would probably concur.

        I live in hope that you’ll one day approach Christianity (especially the cross) in its own terms, rather than as a hostile intent on sabotage.

        After learning ancient Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic and Latin (in order to read biblical manuscripts in their original language) and studying the Bible for 25 years, Bart Ehrman concluded: “Everything I had previously thought about the historical evidence of the resurrection was absolutely wrong.” He didn’t set out to sabotage Christianity. He was motivated by faith, passion and the desire to know all that there was to know about God. It just turned out that Ehrman valued truth above belief, evidence above faith.

      • Mary says:

        Hi Hephastion

        Regarding Ehrman, his views are not as simple as they appear in his statements to the general public. He likes to court controversy when addressing the public (perhaps because it sells popular literature), but in the academic sphere, He has a far more positive view of the reliability of the NT. In fact, he pretty much says it’s reliable.

        http://www.crossexamined.org/blog/?p=157

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