Imagine, if you will, miles and miles of open land. A place where you can actually look out and not see a structure. A place where the streets roll up at dusk, and nothing opens before 10 a.m. on Sundays. A place where the fields are full of future food instead of houses, the roads are flat and plain, and the weather is anything but. Deep in the Heartland, your blogger was born and raised in southern Kansas. The benefits to growing up in the Midwest are numerous, but I feel I can say with confidence that every Kansan alive is annoyed by the way we are seen by the other states (or even countries).
Literally nine times out of ten, if I tell a stranger I am from Kansas, I get a Wizard of Oz reference. While it really grinds my gears to know the most “notable” thing about Kansas is a movie line from a film over 70 years old, the worst ones are the assumptions that everyone in Kansas is a straw-chewing, bible-beating, close-minded, poorly-educated hick. A small number of people associate my prairie roots with the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that perpetuates this misbegotten image.
Let me step off my conveniently sized soap box to say that this, friends, is the point of this post. I’ll try not to blather on in defense of my state.
Two days ago, I read on my HuffPost app that Fred Phelps, founder of the aforementioned facility, was in failing health. His spokesperson would only say that much, but his son released that he was receiving hospice services in Topeka and was not expected to make it much longer. Today, I read that he had indeed passed away. I read the comments of other readers, most of which indicated no sorrow. In fact, many of them suggested picketing Phelps’ funeral services, just as the Westboro congregation frequently protested at the services of fallen soldiers.
While the majority lies with those in favor, there were a fair number of people who disapproved. Doing so, they said, would only bring us to the level of those who have made us so angry. We would be no better than they, to disrupt them in their time of grief and loss.
It came at a fitting time for me; I had just returned from my (fabulous) trip to New York City, where I attended the College Media Association convention. Among a plethora of other amazing experiences, I went to several sessions on journalism. A close friend of mine, Autumn, was also in attendance. Autumn is a strong Christian woman, whose faith in her beliefs inspires me. During our mutual time on the Cowley Press, she ran Cross Reference, the campus paper’s faith page. Her columns were heartfelt and humble, and she received well-deserved attention from other spiritual students and faculty for her great use of scripture in her writing.
Autumn and I roomed together at the conference, along with two other Media Club members and our adviser. We spent a good chunk of time together during the trip, and had some good theological and philosophical discussions. One of these included our mutual distaste for the self-objectification of women in the media today. A spinoff of that one touched on faith and religion. I will say outright that I don’t know what I believe, exactly. I do believe in the God of the Bible and feel I have a strong sense of morality, but I beyond that, I haven’t come to a solid conclusion yet.
Hate or negativity of some kind came up in most—if not all—of our deeper talks. We were unanimously confused by the willingness of our peers (generalized, not specific) to think the worst of others. Neither of us claims to be completely without contempt, and I have my fair share of animosity and anger, but I still don’t understand pure hate. I guess I’m too empathetic for that.
Where the Westboro Baptist Church is concerned, I have some pretty strong feelings of disdain. Their tactics are lewd, their messages misguided, and their approach insincere. It makes me extremely uncomfortable when I see children participating in any kind of protest, particularly ones with the shock factor. I have seen kids holding posters of a post-abortion fetus, or an ironically rainbow-colored sign saying God “hates fags.” If you want to make your beliefs well-known and you feel you have to take a stand on something, that’s your right. But don’t drag your kid into it when your materials are vulgar.
The WBC has a reputation for tenacity in their methods, as well as in their beliefs. Regardless of my opinion, I try my best to respect the personal belief system of others. If they truly feel the deaths of our servicemen and women are a divine retribution for the sins of our people, I respect that. I wholeheartedly disagree, but I feel very little need to get into a boxing match based solely on ideology. In regards to the funeral of Fred Phelps, I plan to pray for his family.
No matter what they’ve done that I can’t condone, someone else’s negative actions don’t justify my own. The eye-for-an-eye mentality of “fairness” is an enticing but destructive school of thought. In the same book those of the WBC love to quote so often, it says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) Right there, in the same place the Bible says not to engage in homosexuality, it says not to bear a grudge or seek revenge.
I encourage you to put yourself into the position of those opposite you. I encourage you to pray for the Phelps family, which makes up most of the congregation of the church. I encourage you to lead by example; to let them grieve for their loved one in peace, to do something more constructive with your time, and to afford them the same respect you wish they would give. Maybe in the aftermath, they can become a more positive entity in the religious world.
Don’t perpetuate the hate.
Autumn is a writer and fan-freaking-tastic photographer. To read Autumn’s blog, go to: autumnlynnmumford.Blogspot.com and to see her photos, find her on FB at https://m.facebook.com/?_rdr#!/profile.php?id=361825686398″ title=”Autumn Lynn Photography”>