Churches, schools prepare as Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket in Spokane
SPOKANE, Wash. — The controversial group, Westboro Baptist Church, is bringing its hate speech to the streets of Spokane Thursday. Several protests are planned at the Spokane Convention Center, Gonzaga University, and a Spokane High School. They’ll be picketing over a two-day period.
The group hasn’t made an appearance in the Inland Northwest for nearly a decade.
According to WBC’s website, the group describes their picketing as, ‘daily, peaceful sidewalk demonstrations, opposing the homosexual lifestyle.’
Something, local religious leaders are arguing against.
The group is known for picketing with signs with hateful messages toward American soldiers, other religions and homosexuality. In its press release, the church said it plans to also, ‘preach with great zeal & fervour against the folly of the North American Association for Environmental Education’ – they don’t believe in climate change.
“It seems like we’re being asked really not to engage with this group. To kind of let them come and go and not to give them the attention that they seem to be trying to draw to themselves,” said Todd Ekfol, minister for Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane.
Gonzaga president, Thayne McCulloh sent a message Monday – to students and staff regarding WBC’s plans to picket.
In the message, McCulloh reminds students the core of WBC’s activism is hate and fear. McCulloh suggested the GU community wear GU clothing Thursday, as a way to join together in solidarity. The school’s president also suggests students take part in a justice-oriented event as a way to respond to WBC’s hate speech. McCulloh states in his message boldly, ‘those who decide to directly counter protest the WBC are asked to do so in a non-violent and legal manner.’
As WBC prepares to line the streets with picket signs blazoned with hate speech, local church leaders are bracing themselves, as they remember the last the time the hate group was in town.
“They’re back again. Just, they’re back,” said rev. Andy CastroLang, Westminster Congregational, United Church of Christ.
With picket plans in place for Thursday and Friday, these local religious leaders are joining the conversation, weighing in on the so-called church.
“It is more of a family-sized cult than it truly is a church,” Ekfol said.
“I think they are out and about. They look for somebody to throw a punch so that they can sue individuals and cities,” CastroLang said.
“Unfortunate individuals who seem to think that they know morality more than they know everyone else,” Ekfol said.
Reverend CastroLang said the group brings shame to Christianity.
“It’s embarrassing and it’s hurtful, and we are not like that,” CastroLang said.
Minister Eklof said the group doesn’t just misrepresent his religion, they misrepresent humanity.
“They gain their strength and their energy by the upset that they create in communities,” Ekfol said.
Both church leaders said they hope that doesn’t happen to this community.
“Reason of love and faith. They go together. They belong in this city. They belong in our world,” CastroLang said.
“These are individuals that fancy themselves dragon-slayers when they’re really tilting it windmills, in order to make themselves feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, by demonizing other people,” Ekfol said.
According to WBC’s picket schedule, the group will start Thursday at the Spokane Convention Center at 11 a.m., then Gonzaga University at 11:45 a.m. The church’s website said they’ll be picketing at the Spokane Convention Center again at 5 p.m. Thursday. Friday, a planned protest is scheduled in front of Lewis and Clark High School at 7:30 a.m.
The last time WBC paid a visit to Spokane was nearly a decade ago in October 2010. The local churches KXLY4 News spoke with said they aren’t planning any counter protests. They did, however, encourage those that want to approach the group, to do so in a non-violent manner.
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