DAY 114: For years they have intrigued me. I’ve watched their interviews and demonstrations on TV and YouTube. They travel the world, hailing from the innocuous center of Kansas and America. They call themselves Baptists — supposed believers of the same Jesus I follow.
As I park my car in a Topekan residential area, I approach 12th Street with a distinct shudder.
NO TRESPASSING signs adorn their fences.
GOD HATES AMERICA drapes down from their wall.
FAG MARRIAGE DOOMS NATIONS, another sign reads.
I am visiting the one and only Westboro Baptist Church, and I wonder with the ache of a thousand aches why our Jesuses differ.
I couldn’t help be mesmerized the first time I saw Westboro Baptist Church on TV. They stood on street corners holding gaudy signs reading GOD HATES FAGS in big bold letters, and they protested the funerals of fallen American soldiers.
Westboro Baptist Church, they called themselves? These people were Christians?
The protests themselves were jarring enough. I couldn’t imagine anyone, any Christian, screaming in the face of such heartache.
But it was the signs they held. Man after woman and child after innocent child wielding a blunt sort of weaponry I’d never before fathomed. A steaming hatred for homosexuals especially.
Growing up, I’d always disassociated myself from gay people. I was a Christian, after all. Christianity and homosexuality didn’t mix. You were on one side or the other; you couldn’t be gay and Christian.
And yet I was just that, I’d later realize. For as long as Westboro has done Westboro things, I have felt caught in the cross-hairs of a sexual orientation and a faith and the call to be some sort of voice in the deafening wilderness.
Throughout Westboro’s infamous sixty-year history, many have fled for fresher waters elsewhere. I once wrote about one such “refugee” named Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps.
As I walk the fences lining 12th Street, I think of Megan and all the rest who have sought freedom. I pray others inside would supernaturally find the same. That the crippling walls of a Pharisaical religion would crumble beneath the flooding love of God.
My heart burns for the people inhabiting Westboro’s walls — the kids, especially. The teenagers, the toddlers, the ones still cradled in their parents’ arms, unaware of their inherited shackles.
With every step down 12th Street, I wonder why God the Father allows such innocence to be corrupted. His precious children?
But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:15
I turn back at the end of the street, and then walk past another building. It stands directly across from Westboro Baptist Church, a rainbow-colored structure called The Equality House.
“Feel free to come on property for pictures!” a cheery sign reads, directly opposing the daunting signs across the street. The right half of The Equality House is painted in alternating rows of ROYGBIV, and the other half is bare plywood.
A man works with hammers and saws in the front yard. I think about introducing myself and asking about his life. I wonder whether he would even call Topeka home were it not for the building across the street with the upside-down rainbow flag. I wonder if he is gay and whether he might suspect I am, too.
I also consider entering The Equality House, though I wonder what I might say or do or why I’d even go inside other than for the grand allure of a story to tell. My head conflicted, I opt not to do either, and I continue walking.
As I resume my gait down 12th Street, I ponder my role in this battlefield. My role as a Christian and a gay person, though not exactly the type of “gay person” you might think.
It feels like a hopeless cause. A defeating conversation on both sides. How do you tie two opposites like that together? What do you say, and what do you do?
What do I say? What do I do?
How do you possibly translate the love of a Savior who initiated countless conversations with the adulteresses and swindlers and diseased and lame among Him?
How do you tell the world that a present-day Jesus would be the first in line to talk with gay people, bi people, and trans people?
And how do you tell the world that this same Jesus would also tell each and every one to pick up their crosses and follow Him, regardless the sexual emotional mental physical psychological excuses otherwise?
As I return to my car, I realize I am straddling a line somewhere between The Equality House and Westboro Baptist Church on 12th Street. A year-and-a-half after releasing Struggle Central, I don’t pretend to know how to properly walk this impossible line.
I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know what to do.
But perhaps that is the point. Perhaps Christians or so-called Christians have said and done enough.
Maybe it is time for Jesus to speak and act. For those that claim His name to walk relentlessly for Him as passersby on either side of the street cannot help noticing, cannot help following.