Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.
How do you respond to someone who persecutes you? I wondered about this for a really long time, and I still have some questions about that. I think the first time I thought of this was back in my sophomore year of college when I first heard about a community called the Westboro Baptist Church.
For those who don’t know much about WBC, it’s a very tiny community of Christians who often travel around America to protest against gay people, Jews, soldiers, even other Christians who don’t believe the same way they do. The messages they send out are horrific, saying things like “God hates America” or “Thank God for dead soldiers”, and even their most widespread message, “God hates you.” They protest at funerals of gay rights supporters and veterans who have died protecting America. Children born and raised in this community are raised to believe what the church teaches them and even take part in the protests. If anyone asks questions or disagrees with even one little detail, they are excommunicated from the church and even their own families.
I had a variety of reactions to WBC and its community based on hate. I didn’t like the things that they did or the things that they promoted. I didn’t like the fact that Christianity was advertised in this way. But one of the things that made me the angriest was that a majority of their actions didn’t line up with who they claimed to be. They dedicate their lives to God, and yet they almost completely ignore one of God’s two greatest commandments according to the Gospel of John: love their neighbors as themselves. Unfortunately they’ve demonstrated more hate than love towards their neighbors.
I also wondered about what I would do if I ever got the chance to meet people like WBC. I liked the idea of a counter protest, and I found myself delighted when watching YouTube videos that made WBC look even more foolish than they already did. But then I came across one particular video about a young man who decided to take a different approach. Instead of starting a counter protest when WBC came to his hometown, he decided to start a fundraiser in that area to raise money for those less fortunate. The whole thing was completely planned at the last minute, and yet the fundraiser actually raised a lot of money, and the young man said that he had WBC to thank for that. He completely turned what could’ve been a horrible turn of events into a pretty decent day.
After that, the videos that made WBC look foolish didn’t appeal to me as much anymore. I felt guilty for taking pleasure out of watching WBC being humiliated time and time again. Don’t get me wrong; their actions still make me angry, and I don’t think I’ll ever approve of the things that they advertise or the fact that they’re hurting other people with their words. But the bottom line is that things like counter protests and videos that make them look like clowns is only sinking down to that level, and that’s only going to make the situation worse instead of better. More importantly, that’s not what God calls us to do.
And the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that we could actually learn something valuable from WBC. I don’t agree with everything that they do or say, but I believe them when they say that we ought to repent for our sins and that sin is nothing to be proud of. Let’s face it. We all sin and we all make mistakes. No one is guaranteed a sin-free life. But when we do something wrong, how often do we repent and ask God to forgive us our sins? Just because we’ve become born-again Christians, it doesn’t mean that we get a free pass to use our lives as we please and not go to Hell. We’ll still sin whether we’re born again or not, and we’ll still need to set things right with God and the people that we sin against. And once we repent and ask for forgiveness, he will forgive us and never hold those sins against us again. So WBC, if you’re reading this right now, thanks for teaching me that. It’s a very valuable lesson that I’ll never forget.
Does this excuse everything else that happens where WBC is concerned? I will say that they’re entitled to believe what they want, and according to the constitution they do have the freedom of speech. But just because the government says it’s okay, it doesn’t mean that God says it’s okay. During Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount towards the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that the way you judge others is the same way that you will be judged. So why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye if you have a plank in yours and can’t see past it? In defense of WBC, we all have this problem. We all have a tendency to see the bad in others, but we often can’t see the bad in our own lives. Often times we don’t know people well enough to be able to judge them. That’s why it’s up to God–not the people–to judge the people, because he knows the people better than we could possibly know ourselves. In the book Walk Two Moons, a proverb says that “you can’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”
So how should we respond when we are attacked or criticized? How do we learn to love our enemies? Maybe, just maybe, the best way to respond to people who persecute us is to pray for them. But this in itself could mean a variety of things. Does it mean that we should pray for their destruction? Never. Does it mean that we should pray that they succeed in their persecution of us or others? Absolutely not. So what should we pray for in terms of our enemies, then, if not for success or destruction? My answer to this question is Paul. The apostle Paul was once one of the greatest enemies of early Christianity, persecuting and executing other Christians. But after he had an encounter with Jesus, he completely turned his life around and is one of the most beloved saints of Christianity today.
When we remember the people who persecute us, whether they are people like the bullies at school, the people we just don’t get along with, people like WBC, or the people who genuinely hate us and want to see us suffer, we should pray for them. We don’t have to like what they do—as a matter of fact, if what they do is evil, then we shouldn’t like it at all. But we do need to respect them as people. We should pray that God’s will be done the way he wants, because I know that as long as God’s in charge then everything will work out the way it should. We should also pray for patience when dealing with such people, so that we don’t lash out and say hurtful things that we wouldn’t normally say in any other circumstance. We should pray that we’ll be able to live at peace with everyone whether they like us or not. We should pray that we can learn to honestly care about them and be incredibly sensitive about how we interact with them. We’re all equal in the eyes of God, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. We also need to realize that we’re not perfect either. It’s easy for us to point a finger at someone who’s being mean or making bad decisions because we’d rather not point the finger at ourselves. And in everything we do, we need to pray. God wants us to make the right decisions, but we can’t do that without his help.
Here’s another question that I have to ask about persecution: what if the person hurting you is a friend? It’s possible that someone may be hurting you accidentally, so if that happens talking to them about it is my first word of advice. I know it isn’t easy to deal with conflict, but here’s the thing: if a person has to use and abuse you in order for you to be their friend, then it’s not worth it. It’s not a healthy friendship to have, and allowing it to continue for longer than necessary will only make things worse on both sides. A friend of mine had to endure an entire semester of being used and dehumanized by someone she thought was her friend, and by the time we were wrapping up the school year I witnessed how much emotion she was holding inside from the experience. A favorite quote of mine from the film Princess Diaries is “Courage is not an absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is far more important than fear.” It may seem scary to confront a friend, but the aftermath is what’s important. If they react poorly to what you tell them, then that’s their choice, not yours. When it comes to two people interacting with one another, you can only take responsibility for what you do.
One final question that I want to share my thoughts on: what if you’re the one hurting someone else? I know what it’s like to lash out and say/do something you don’t mean; we all do it at one point or another. But if you are hurting someone, I have two words of advice: 1) be honest with yourself about it. Look inside yourself and reevaluate your actions. The truth is that you may be unintentionally hurting someone and not realizing it. Talking to God about it helps; he’ll be gentle but honest about what he wants you to change. And 2) be honest with the people you’re hurting. A true sign of character is being able to put your pride aside and say “I hurt your feelings and I’m really sorry I did that.”
Thanks for reading this. There was a lot that I could’ve said about this, and I could talk about it for hours. If you have thoughts on the subject, you want to critique, or if you have any ideas of what I could write about in future posts, please feel free to leave comments on this entry.
Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”