Sojourners Magazine: June 2012
WHY RUN AN article about Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that cloaks itself in Christian garb? That’s a question we wrestled with when considering this issue’s cover story. We believe that God loves everyone; Westboro believes that’s a heretical “lie,” so we don’t want to needlessly give them a spotlight. And, like researcher Rebecca Barrett-Fox, we want to be clear that conservative or Calvinist theology definitely doesn’t have to end up proclaiming misogyny, homophobia, and God’s hate. (The Primitive Baptist denomination, of which Westboro claims to be part, explicitly disowns it and calls Westboro’s actions unbiblical.)
Ultimately, exposing Westboro’s inner sociological, psychological, and theological mechanics might help others avoid taking any steps down its road. How can a group of otherwise functional people—with careers in nursing and computer science, whose kids go to public school and seem “normal,” all led by a former civil rights lawyer—sustain itself in spewing out such venom? What makes exploring this subject bearable, even full of grace, is the way Barrett-Fox approaches it: drawing strength from her family and relationships, taking insights from feminist ethnography about how to use empathy without allowing it to dull critical thinking, and remembering that, like Paul of Tarsus, even the hate-filled people of Westboro are not beyond God’s ability to redeem.
Among this month’s other offerings are two takes on a type of “person” made not by God, but by a legal fiction: corporations. E.J. Dionne examines the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to make unlimited political donations, while Catholic theologian Vincent Miller points out perhaps the worst effect of making corporations “people”: the danger that real humans, made in God’s image, may be pulled to make themselves over in an amoral corporate likeness.