Massive tornadoes swept through Missouri earlier this week, leaving at least 125 dead, hundreds still missing and thousands homeless. It’s a tragic and heart-wrenching scenario, one that evokes heartbreak among the most rational and reasonable citizens. The Westboro Baptist Church, however, is not among them.
Best known for their incessant hooting and hollering against gays and picketing dead soldiers’ funerals, the nonsensical church is now celebrating the death and destruction in Missouri by disseminating their traditionally ugly press releases, including one that declares, “Thank God for 125 dead.”
Again, this is not rational behavior. Not to the majority of the public, at least. To Westboro, however, they’re coming not from a place of hate, but from a place of love. That’s what one of Westboro founder Fred Phelps’ grandchildren told me when I interviewed her a few years ago.
“The definition of ‘love’ to people in this generation is loving someone even when you see them doing wrong, saying, ‘Oh, that’s okay, I’m going to love you anyway, because I’m just that good. I’m just a good person,’” Megan Phelps explained in February of 2010, when Westboro was picketing Twitter.
“That’s not what God’s standard of love is; He says, ‘Thou shalt not hate thy neighbor in thine heart,’ but instead of hating them, your job is to, ‘rebuke him and not suffer his sin upon him.’ So, again, loving your neighbor is warning him.”
While Westboro’s actions are certainly a lesson in religious fanaticism, they also offer a meditation on the subjective nature of “love.” To some it’s flowers and sunshine, and to others it’s fire and brimstone. Luckily for us, most people, religious or otherwise, know which love is the best love, and it’s not the celebration of dead babies or lives torn asunder.