How Do I Stop My Enemies?

I know that I’m supposed to love my enemies.  Jesus said so (Matt. 5:44).  But on Tuesday morning I was wondering how I could stop my enemies, because they were coming to my town.

Some of the members of Westboro Baptist Church were coming to Richmond to spread their message of hate at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, the Jewish Community Center, and Hermitage High School.  You may have seen these people before.  Led by Pastor Fred Phelps the members of this widely recognized hate group stage protests across the country and carry signs that say, “God Hates Fags,” “Rabbis Rape Babies,” “America is Doomed,” all the while chanting things like “You’re going to hell!” and “God hates Jews!” 

You get the picture.

I’m a member of the Jewish Community Center, where I work out several times a week.  When I heard Westboro Baptist Church was going to be protesting there I wrote the following letter to Executive Director Jordan Shenker.

Dear Mr. Shenker:

I learned this morning that the Weinstein JCC has been chosen as one of the locations for a demonstration by the so-called “Westboro Baptist Church,” a hate group from Topeka, Kansas.

I am writing to condemn the actions of this group, and to offer the friendship and solidarity of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I assure you that this group has no affiliation with the faithful Christian tradition to which we belong.  We stand with you against such hatred, which we find nowhere in the teachings of Moses or Jesus. 

I am a member of the Weinstein JCC.  I work out in the fitness center there several times per week.  I have received the warmest possible welcome from your staff and from my fellow members.  It grieves me that this group has chosen your center as a place to spread its message of hate.  The only thing stronger, and the only thing with which we can counter such atrocity, is love.

I send this letter in that spirit.

Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church

I followed up with a personal visit on Monday and talked with Mr. Shenker’s assistant.  She thanked me for my concern and assured me that they understood Westboro Baptist Church was not affiliated with “the Baptist Church.”  I asked her what we could do to help and she said they were planning to ignore the protestors as much as possible, to let them be seen for what they are—a tiny band of hatemongers. 

Some of my colleagues decided to participate in counterprotests, to see if the message of love could drown out the message of hate.  I saw them on the news last night and I think they were, more or less, successful.  My friend Wallace Adams-Riley sent a text message that read, simply: “Jesus won.”

But I found myself praying for Fred Phelps, the leader of  this group.  I can only imagine what he has been through—how he has been mistreated, molested, or abused—but I imagine that somewhere along the way Hate had its way with him and made him its disciple.  I found myself praying that Love would have its way with him instead, and he would become its disciple; that he would someday repent on national television and tell the world through tears, “I was wrong!  God doesn’t hate anybody!  God doesn’t even hate me!” 

It’s probably too much to hope for, but that’s how I’m trying to stop my enemies: by praying for them.

Join me, won’t you?

9 thoughts on “How Do I Stop My Enemies?

  1. This man doesn’t perceive that he is led by his proprium , led by self, if he is elevated out of his proprium, and is led by the Lord, good is what he wills, thinks and does. Then he reflects upon his thoughts, intentions and deeds, that is, examine himself, and abstain from evil affections antagonistic to the neighbor!

  2. Jim,
    All you can do is pray for him/them. In the Disciples class this week we talked about Demons…and this Fred Phelps certainly seems to be haunted by a demon of hate. It’s just so sad. I was happy to see the counter-protesters out in full force, and glad you were willing to take the stand you did. People need to know he isn’t representative of the Church we know and love. Thanks.

  3. Thank you, Jim, for modeling an appropriate response to such events. My first reaction upon hearing the news of the planned demonstrations was, “Why are they coming here to spread their message of hate? What do they think is so important about their message that they feel compelled to travel so far to voice it?” Then I became angry. I confess that, for the moment, I wasn’t very happy with the freedom of speech guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. I wanted to show support for the organizations under attack, but I had no idea how to do that. Thank you for showing me what to do NEXT time.

  4. Thank you for bringing a message of positivity to your readers. I feel so many of us need to seek out that silver lining on every occasion, no matter the importance of the issue . If nothing else you’ve made a definite influence on my home.

  5. You are such an example, Pastor Jim. Bless you! I believe that addressing this issue on your blog, sending the letter, and visiting Mr. Shenker’s assistant (LOVE IN ACTION) has already created a considerable positive “ripple” effect” – and without the TV coverage. Wallace was right, “Jesus won.”

    I must admit, praying for the “enemy” is always one of the toughest “assignments” for me, but I will . . .
    Luke 23:34

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