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Even the Most Hateful Views Can Evolve. Former Westboro Baptist Member Converts to Love.

Westboro Baptist Church
Westboro Baptist Church

Last Sunday my Unitarian Universalist Reverend spoke about a former Westboro Baptist member, Megan Phelps-Roper.

“At 5, She Protested Homosexuality, Now She Protests The Church That Made Her Do It.”

Westboro Baptist if you aren’t aware, protest at LGBTQ funerals. Members wave signs at grieving loved ones that slur LGBTQ people and support divine killings:

God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,” “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.””God hates faggots” “Fags doom nations” “Thank God for 9/11”

Members protest at travelers disembarking from LGTBQ cruises.  

This includes parents with kids in tow unprepared for the verbal onslaught.  Westboro, also with kids in tow, proudly pass on their hate-disease by enlisting little ones to hold “God Hates Faggots” signs as their kid’s faces shine with confused giddiness.  

These poor children have no idea why they’re so excited to scream vile phrases at innocent families, except that mom and dad told them that hating “those people” is God’s will. 

And so, it must be.   

What I feel about Westboro Baptist can’t be printed. Although I blogged about them for the Huffington Post after the Pulse tragedy in my hometown, “To Westboro Baptist, We Win.”

It’s no surprise that when people challenge our deeply embedded worldview we double down on our argument. It’s the boomerang effect. Calling someone a “fascist pig, libtard, baby killer or evil disgusting homophobe” feels good in the moment but does nothing to change minds.  

We try to convince people that we’re obviously right and that they’re obviously wrong with their stupid thinking. Even if we don’t call them stupid, we imply it.  

This never works. You and I know that.

Nonetheless, I continue with my rage-du-jour on Facebook. I’m deeply into social activism and frankly, ranting is cathartic. Ranting releases my psychic outrage which seems to be growing exponentially as a Florida Democrat (in the news lately, DeSantis’s dystopian book banning).  

I never call names, of course. I save that for the privacy of my home where I shamelessly and grossly let loose in the most unChrist-like way.

I avoid face-to-face politics. And online I present rational arguments with great passion and occaisional snark towards select politicians (thus igniting the tribalism at the root of “us vs them” thinking).

On Sunday my reverend presented five suggestions for how to disagree better.

1) Assume good intentions

I admit that I don’t assume good intentions for Neo Nazis, Westboro Baptist or people in favor of forcing a rape victim to carry her pregnancy.

Now, if I went way down deep into a Christ-like place I might find a morsel of “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” But I won’t, not for the real damage they’re doing.

2) Ask questions

I learned that our question shouldn’t be “Why do you think this (stupid) way?” rather, “May I ask where you learned your beliefs?” Then listen. Meet people where they ARE. We don’t know why they feel the way they do. Upbringing. Brain-washing. A bad experience. A need to belong.

3) Stay calm

If nothing else, do this.

I stay relatively calm in my posts except when referring to laws that take women’s rights away, ban books, marginalize the LGBTQ community, and the like.

Since 2016 I don’t engage in face-to-face opposing politics. It’s relationship dynamite and puts me in a bad mood.

The last Trump fan I spoke to about Trump was about 5 years ago. This woman insisted nothing was wrong with his character, and as for the Me Too movement?

She said women “overreact” at work when men make lewd comments. She said she was smarter than most people in business because she knew how to use her looks to get what she wanted. For example, she agreed to get a boob job suggested and paid for by her boss to “boost her sales numbers with men.”

Sad and brimming with flawed arguments. But do I have the will or energy to guide her to reason? No. 

4) Make the argument

And I do, with facts, mainly with centrist media sources like the Associated Press, Pew Research etc.  Look for reporting that doesn’t lean left or right. Check media sites with mediabiasfactcheck.com.

5) Speak with love and grace

I’m pretty damn gracious if I do say so, but do I speak with love? Sort of.

Love is a big word, wildly overused and diluted. I can be open to why someone is the way they are.  God knows I have issues that shaped my least-best traits.

I can be compassionate until someone uses words and actions that harm (“God hates faggots”). What do you think that does to a teenager struggling with his or her sexuality?

Or the 15-week ban on abortion in Florida with no exception for rape and incest. A girl is raped by her father but has to bear the burden of that horror for 40s weeks? There’s not enough crisis counseling in the world to counter that sort of psychic torture.

People much more patient than I, people willing to open the door with Westboro Baptist, engaged graciously with Megan Phelps-Roper on Twitter. Enough people who vehemently hated her views remained calm, open, asked good questions and listened.

And over time it worked. Megan did a 360 and is now helping change people’s hearts.  

It would take Jesus himself to tell me, Come on Laura, do better and graciously engage with people who spew hateful venom.

And even then, I’d need to be heavily medicated.

But we can all do better to close the gap between our divisive worldviews. Stay calm. Don’t insult, walk away, be gracious.

I noticed over the years that a few Trump friends unfriended me. They did it quietly. I just looked them up and they were gone. I completely understand. If I loved Trump, I’d hate my posts too.

And honestly it’s for the best that my QAnon friends went away. I don’t see much hope for us coming together when their views include the conspiracy theory that Hillary runs a secret chain of pizza restaurants as a cover for child sex trafficking.  

Sometimes there’s zero wiggle room to disagree lovingly. So just quietly unfriend, walk away, don’t discuss. You won’t change their mind, but you won’t make your relationship worse.  

 Former Westboro Baptist member Ted talk

Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

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Site last updated February 22, 2024 @ 6:33 pm; This content last updated January 2, 2024 @ 4:28 pm

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