Calumny May Defame

January 29, 2008 | 62 comments
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The wonderful folk at the Westboro Baptist Church have announced plans to picket President Hinckley’s funeral. These nutters — who are not affiliated with mainstream Baptists — are known for marching at U.S. soldier funerals with placards that read, “God Hates F***s.”

Yesterday’s muddled press release (warning: the URL is itself offensive, and the press release is pretty bad) states that President Hinckley and Mormons generally are “[gay] enablers” and announces that therefore, “Gordon Hinckley is in Hell.”

My understanding of the constitutional issues is that the First Amendment probably protects these kinds of protests. It will be interesting to see church member reaction. Hopefully, members will be able to avoid the urge to escalate, which would only play into the protesters’ hands.

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62 Responses to Calumny May Defame

  1. Russell Arben Fox on January 29, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    The people who associate with Westboro Baptist Church are, to a man, deluded fools, moral idiots, and outright bastards. I say that as a Kansas resident and as one completely unapologetic about the language I just used to describe them. There is no polite way to express the contempt that all right-thinking people have for these lunatic grandstanders.

  2. cj douglass on January 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    The irony of a church picketing the funeral of a man who taught religious tolerance is not lost on me…

  3. Doc on January 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    I don’t get it, why would the picket signs announce that God hates them? ;)

  4. Ray on January 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Amen, Russell. There really is no other way to describe what they do.

  5. Dan Richards on January 29, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    When I went to click on the link Kaimi provided, my firm\’s firewall blocked me. Usually it gives a reason like \”high bandwidth\” or \”streaming video.\” In this case, though, the reason given was \”intolerance/extremism.\” The firewall has spoken….

  6. Last Lemming on January 29, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    It is an honor to be picketed by these folks. We must be doing something right.

  7. Kaimi Wenger on January 29, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Well said, Russell.

    And yet, I’m having a hard time finding outrage here, because these people are so obviously deluded. I mean, their number-one complaint about President Hinckley is apparently that he supported gays. I find that just bizarre. President Hinckley did a number of great things; but he wasn’t really known as a vocal advocate of gay rights, was he?

    The WBC’s description is mind-boggling. It can only be explained, I think, by the fact that the WBC thinks that _everyone_ is a gay supporter.

  8. ECS on January 29, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    It’s times like these when the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins feel vindicated.

    So sad. My thoughts and prayers are with President Hinckley’s family.

  9. Chris on January 29, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Haha Richards. I was about to comment about my firewall saying it was blocked due to \’intolerance/racism.\’

  10. Snow White on January 29, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Shame our freedom of speech doesn’t extend to the use of firehoses…..call it performance art :/

  11. jjohnsen on January 29, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    They’re picketing for the same reason they’re picketing Heath Ledgers funeral, publicity.

    And every Mormon blog that talks about it is helping them.

  12. California Condor on January 29, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    I disagree with the Westboro Baptist Church. But I am glad they have the right to express their opinion.

  13. cj douglass on January 29, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Kaimi,
    I think the bit about Pres. Hinckley being pro-gay is from his counsel to love them. What an insanely un-christian thing to do!

  14. California Condor on January 29, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    @ Last Lemming (6),

    Yes, it is a validation of sorts to be picketed by Westboro Baptist Church. It means that we are a high-profile element of American life in the 2000s. I think future history textbooks might mention the Westboro Baptists when covering our era.

  15. JimD on January 29, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    My firm’s firewall is less advanced, apparently.

    Their beef with Hinckley seems to be primarily the Lorenzo Snow couplet about “as man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”. To wit, they’re mad at him for ENDORSING the couplet.

    Oh, the irony . . .

  16. bbell on January 29, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I agree with Fox.

    Also we get picketed all the time at GC, temple open houses, and pageants. So they are not exactly trail-blazing.

    Although its a bit unusual for an anti-gay org to picket a church with strong anti homosexual sex teachings and policies.

  17. Guy on January 29, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The church has clearly stated its position on homosexuality, i.e., that it is inconsistent with God’s plan of salvation and morally wrong, which has drawn fire from the powerful, pro-gay lobby. At the very same time, however, the church is drawing criticism from extreme evangelicals asserting that it is gay-enabling. Of course, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. But at least the church can stand tall knowing that it is pleasing the only one that counts: God.

  18. Kevinf on January 29, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    How very, very sad. God must weep when he sees the antics of these folks. They are offensive to just about everyone, but seem to have a knack for displaying their rights of free speech at the places that will get them nothing but scorn and pity.

  19. SC Taysom on January 29, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    I can’t muster more than a sigh and a shrug. Everybody knows what these people are and the only power they have is what is given them through reactions. Would I like to knock their teeth out? Sure, but not any more now than when they do this nonsense at the funerals of war dead. Which is, of course, exactly what they want.

  20. Adam Greenwood on January 29, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Proof of President Hinckley’s prophetic gifts: he made a point of teaching forgiveness and turning the other cheek over the last few years. ;)

  21. JonW on January 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    These people do what they do but at the same time I cannot help but see them as the other side of the extremist coin. Sad pitiful people.

  22. Seth R. on January 29, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    By the way, there are generic “disturbing the peace” statutes, that if these folks run afoul of, you can have them arrested.

    Everyone always assumes that Free Speech means there’s nothing you can do about highly reprehensible behavior and it really just isn’t true.

  23. Mark B. on January 29, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    It would be nice if the Patriot Guard Riders would show up. Pres. Hinckley was not a military veteran, but he loved his native land, and received its highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom.

  24. Eric Russell on January 29, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Maybe Soulforce will show up to picket also and then two groups can duke it out.

  25. JimD on January 29, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Well, at least we managed to get the Main Street Plaza easement issue resolved before this.

  26. smb on January 29, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Something tells me the Westboro Jesus looks (and behaves) a lot like Rambo. I’m with Taysom on ignoring them, though perhaps it’s useful for us as LDS in gaining sympathy for gays harangued by hate-mongering freudian implosions like the Westboro crew.

  27. Paradox on January 29, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    The Constitution doesn\’t protect people\’s \”right\” to say whatever they dang well please. It states the Congress has no right to stop them.

    Fortunately for the citizens of America, we aren\’t Congress.

  28. Chance on January 29, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Is ignorance really bliss?

  29. Aaron Shafovaloff on January 29, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    As an evangelical Christian who has no problem with street preaching to Mormons in UT, I have a message for Westboro Baptist Church:

    GO HOME.

    These guys aren’t Christians, they have zero sense of love, and they simply love the attention.

  30. Ray on January 29, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Well said, AS. We have no leg to stand on if we complain about street preaching to Mormons, but this is another thing altogether.

  31. Jim Cobabe on January 29, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Generally the official Church response to such ill-considered public tantrums is to ignore them. I believe this is a wise policy, born out of many years of experience dealing with such circumstances.

    Public demonstrations are staged to attact attention. We should probably make sure that accurate and truthful information is readily available to counter the arguments of demonstrators, but it would be counterproductive to devote much effort to silencing them. Better to deprive them of their objective by withholding an official response.

    That said, there is always something to be gained by efforts made on a more personal level. Those who have cause to interact with these demonstrators should be careful to maintain composure and comport themselves with good will, as appropriately representing the Church — and President Hinckley.

  32. Sarah on January 29, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    I thought the official Church response was to out-loud them via stereos blasting songs from the hymnal and children’s songbook. Admittedly this entirely based on my single experience with anti-LDS protesters (the 2006 Palmyra pageant.) It was actually fairly cool: the music created a wall of sound that basically meant you could only hear the protests while crossing the street: in the parking lot you only heard children’s songs, and once you entered the pageant area, you could only hear the hymns.

    The folks at Westboro go out of their way to be offensive, and in general seem to be attempting to redefine the concept of “bad taste” after their own image. I agree with Last Lemming’s #6.

    Incidentally: doesn’t the Church own most of the property around the Tabernacle/Conference Center? It seems to me the protests will by definition resemble whatever happens at General Conference.

  33. MikeInWeHo on January 30, 2008 at 1:36 am

    The BBC produced a great documentary about Westboro entitled “The Most Hated Man In America.” I can’t find a link to view it online (maybe somebody else can), but there’s a summary here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6507971.stm

    It’s well worth watching. I’ve been familiar with this organization for years, and have told many people: The members of Westboro Baptist Church are the best friends the gay community could ever have. Think about it.

  34. Jeremy on January 30, 2008 at 2:06 am

    The whole BBC doc is available on Google Video:
    http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-4413388146858417528

    I’m tempted to show up with my own placard reading “God Hates Kissups.”

  35. Jeremy on January 30, 2008 at 2:10 am

    …or maybe this instead.

  36. anon on January 30, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Mike and Jeremy, thanks for the links. That BBC journalist is hilarious in that I can’t believe he remains so improbably polite and dispassionate. I can’t help but recall Dave Chapelle’s Black White Supremacist and the long-sufferingly objective journalist reporting on him.

    What a mess. I completely agree with previous comments #6, #33: being picketed by WBC is an unintentional honor, and WBC does a fantastic job of unintentionally converting people away from homophobia.

  37. Steven B on January 30, 2008 at 5:01 am

    Although the press release emphasizes doctrinal issues with the LDS church, you can bet that the few Westbro protesters that show up will be displaying their standard signs that God Hates [gays] and God Hates America, etc. The truth is, what the Phelps clan are saying is “Mormons are too tolerant of sinners.” The LDS attitude currently is “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Phelps would have us hate the sinners.

  38. Anne on January 30, 2008 at 7:22 am

    I was going to comment that, after having watched the Louis Theroux documentary (the BBC one referenced above) when it was broadcast, I felt a huge sorrow for the younger members of the WBC. They seemed like normal nice kids, who don\’t stand much of a chance, given the family they have been born into, and I think Theroux felt that too.

    BTW Theroux has done several of these type of documentaries. His one on the White Supremacists was jaw dropping for those of us outwith the US.

  39. meems on January 30, 2008 at 9:42 am

    My firewall blocked it due to “racism and hate.”

    Intellectually I can dismiss these people as complete lunatics and idiots, but spiritually I know I should love my enemies. Pretty hard at a time like this, though.

  40. meems on January 30, 2008 at 9:51 am

    That was unclear. My firewall blocked the link that Kaimi put up. Also the second link from Jeremy above. The BBC video is great.

  41. Jeremy on January 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Intellectually I can dismiss these people as complete lunatics and idiots, but spiritually I know I should love my enemies. Pretty hard at a time like this, though.

    With people like this I just tell myself that I’m still in the “reproving betimes with sharpness” phase…

  42. Matt Evans on January 30, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Wow, I just watched that documentary. Fascinating. I don’t remember the last time a documentary piqued my curiosity like that. Many of them were so likable, especially the 20-something law student. I so badly wanted to talk to her — she seemed so reasonable.

  43. Matt Evans on January 30, 2008 at 11:19 am

    “spiritually I know I should love my enemies. Pretty hard at a time like this, though.”

    If you watch the documentary I think you’ll love most of them. Fred Phelps plays a run-of-the-mill cult-leader ass, but the rest are merely deceived and obviously not haters. I wish Theroux had interviewed the four Phelps children who’d left the group.

  44. Dom on January 30, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I know it’s not very Christ like, but sometimes I wish ‘freedom of speech’ included putting my boot in Fred Phelps hind end. This guy gives all Christian religions a bad name.

  45. Latter-day Guy on January 30, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Where is Orrin Porter Rockwell when you need him? All in favor of a 9th Quorum of the Seventy, known informally as “the Danites” please manifest…

  46. Jeremy on January 30, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    #45: There’s the next J.J. Abrams television concept: Mormon “Black Ops.”

  47. Drea on January 30, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    The LDS Chruch is one the most persecuted against churches in American history. We have a long, long history of intolerant and violent acts of hate being directed towards us and our ancestors. The Westboro Baptist Chruch can just get in line. They are nowhere near the wrost we have seen and we stand firm in our faith.

  48. MikeInWeHo on January 30, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    re: 47 Yeah, I agree with that. Westboro is so over the top, it’s almost funny. Sometimes I wonder if they’re some kind of clandestine parody group. There’s a point in the BBC documentary where the wife makes some hateful comment about fags or some-such, then kinda gives Theroux a wink-wink as if to communicate “I know how ridiculous this is.” They’re a fascinating group if you can get past their rhetoric and see them as people. You’ve got to wonder, what on earth makes these people tick? Is it really just attention seeking? They march around with some of the most hateful signs imaginable, but when you listen to them in that documentary they seem much less hateful than some other more acceptable Evangelicals (Dobson comes to mind).

  49. Anon on January 30, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I would urge us all to not even go close to the corner they are protesting on. Don’t give them an audience!

  50. Jacob F on January 30, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I personally have a bigger problem with them protesting at solidiers’ funerals, since those families don’t have a Temple Square buffer zone to protect the peace. A silver lining would be if President Hinckley’s funeral draws the group away from a soldier’s funeral.

  51. BHodges on January 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Re: 29, Agent Shafavoloff

    WBC, if Aaronshaf tells you to go home, you might wanna reconsider your approach.

  52. Matt Evans on January 30, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Mike #48, I don’t know the wink-wink you’re mentioning, but do you remember how the law student laughed when she tells Theroux he’s going to hell, and he asks her about it a couple times? She never has a very good answer, but it seemed to me that she laughed because she realized how ridiculous it would sound to outsiders.

  53. Kevinf on January 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Everybody knows these folks for what they are, and our best action is to just ignore them. The less credence we give them, the more they pale in comparison to us. Don’t yell at them, don’t talk to them, just ignore them.

    The last thing we want is to be known as the church that went all postal on the Westboro folks.

  54. MikeInWeHo on January 30, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    For what it’s worth, at large Gay Pride events they are typically behind a police barrier in a designated protest area. Lots of gay couples have fun standing in front of them, kissing, and getting their picture taken. It’s almost a tradition. I agree with Kevinf: It would be unfortunate if the LDS took them seriously or over-reacted. That’s playing right into their hands.

  55. Jeremy on January 30, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    BHodges: brilliant work, sir!

  56. Bruce V C on January 30, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    In addition to disturbing the peace as was already mentioned, tresspassing and disrupting a religious service (a misdemeanor in Utah), such as were brought against this woman might be brought.

    For me though, it’s simply my duty to ignore them and focus on the issue at hand—worshipping the Lord in response to the emulable life’s work of one of His prophets.

    I have been in sacrament meetings before when individuals of other faiths have come to the pulpit to criticize the Church during fast and testimony meeting. In one, the Bishop’s counsellors stood up and escorted the person out of the building. I have been in other meetings where a person has stood up and criticized the Bishop loudly, once making a threat on his life. Let’s not forget what happened to President Hunter with Cody Judy. Fast and testimony meeting went on—with testimony. The other meetings went on—withaccomplishment. President Hunter went on with his talk. “Life has a fair number of challenges in it,” he said, ” as demonstrated.” and that was his only mention of a bomb threat minutes before.

    As for President Hinckly at the Christmas devotional two years ago, he didn’t even flinch.

  57. CK on January 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    \”They’re picketing for the same reason they’re picketing Heath Ledger[\']s funeral, publicity.\”

    Well, Ledger also played a gay cowboy in a blockbuster hit, which President Hinckley did not do, last time I checked.

  58. MikeInWeHo on January 30, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    re: 58

    So I guess that makes their presence at Ledger’s funeral OK, CK?

  59. BHodges on January 31, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Jeremy: Don’t thank me; thank MS Paint.

  60. SomeDude on February 2, 2008 at 5:19 am

    What about using their own tactics against them?

    Not responding in anger, but responding with humor. The media is all about the novel and sensational: usually these situations end with a bunch of people getting mad at the WBC and that\’s that. Why not brandish signs with amusing and light hearted non-sequitors like \”My atheist god thinks you need a hug\” or \”WBC secretly

  61. ogre on February 4, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    #61 … \”WBC secretly–\” what?

    I had planned to join WBC, stand in their midst with a two-sided sign on a tall pole. The side facing them would say something critical and ambiguous, and the second side which would face the on-lookers, would say “NOW ACCEPTING DONATIONS. VISA, CASH OR HUMAN SACRIFICE.”
    Good thing I didn’t because I might be the only one who found that funny. Also, I hear WBC was a no-show.

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