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The Protest Protest: Countering Hate With Love, by Rev. Mark Sandlin

The group who gathered today near Edenton Street United Methodist Church (UMC), in order to counter the hateful message which Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) brought with them, was a diverse and, mostly, well mannered group whose message of love, grace and respect rang out in their largly quite protest.

The gathering began about 9 a.m. A small group of faithful counter protesters gathered on a corner a few block north of the church. Shortly after that the Raleigh police arrived and started setting up the barricades. Throughout the day, the police could not have been more professional, organized, orderly and helpful. Both groups of protesters showed great respect to the officers, a respect which they wholeheartedly deserved.

Our group arrived about 9:30. As we oriented ourselves to downtown Raleigh in search of the gathering place for the counter protest, we found ourselves squarely in front of Edenton Street UMC. It was hard to overlook the media circus there, but as we stopped to see the church and turned around to return to the gathering, something more interesting caught our eyes.

There on the sidewalk beneath our feet were messages left in chalk from a group who had gathered the night before, “We love you Elizabeth,” “God Speed Elizabeth,” “Rest In Peace.” It was just the right note on which to begin our non-violent protest.

At first the crowed came in slowly and, at times hesitantly, but by 10 a.m. their was a small but steady stream of people gathering. An early sign of what the demeanor of the largest majority of this group would be like arrived in the form of a random guy with two large boxes of piping hot coffee and cups with which to share it. On a 36 degree morning, it was a more than welcome sign of things to come.

Many of us were wearing blue in honor of Elizabeth as suggested by the movement “Just Wear Blue.” The blue quickly became accented with pink as one of the group organizers came around with pink streamers for everyone to wear both in memory of Elizabeth and in support of breast cancer awareness.

The crowd continued to grow. Before long, there were hundreds of us there, but the gathering could not have been more peaceful. Signs began to appear before WBC ever appeared, but these were signs of love and support, not the signs of hate that would later arrive with WBC. “God Loves Elizabeth Edwards,” “Hero,” “Hope,” “Grace.”

I climbed to a higher advantage point on some scaffolding to get a picture of the crowd who had gathered and no soon than I had pulled out my camera WBC made their appearance to an odd combination of 'boos' and something that wasn't quite cheers but at the same time indicated the crowd's collective recognition of why we had gathered.

The signs WBC pulled out, as expected, were just awful. I will not repeat them here. You can find pictures of the all over the Internet (including my personal FB page and on The Christian Left on FB as well).

While there were a few less than respectful shouts coming from our side (labeled, correctly, The Line of Love), the largest majority chose to use less aggressive methods of couter-protest. As the WBCers would start to shout something out or sing, The Line of Love would counter with our own song. When the film crews would begin to interview the WBCers, the crowd would chant, “Don't film them!,” or “Don't believe the hate!,” which both sent out our message and seemed to actually make it difficult to film them without a good deal of noise.

Despite the horrible things their signs said, I will say this, I never saw a WBCer being hostile, aggressive or even mean to anyone (other than their horrible signs). As I hinted at earlier, their exchanges with the police were particularly well handled and professional. Regardless of their behavior, their presence and their signs were enough to make their hate clear.

As time went on, we were not alone. Several bikers drove through continuing their tradition of revving their engines to intentionally drown out anything the WBCers tried to say. Each time they did, the crowd would cheer them on adding to the overwhelming blanket of sound.

There were bicyclers, people in cars with blasting music, a large black truck sporting a slightly over-sized American flag, a volvo painted in a multiplicity of colors... so many people, from some many backgrounds showing up to counter the hate. It's enough to make you start believing in hope again, believing in the good intention of the people of our nation when there is so much talk of further marginalizing the least of these, believing in the possibility of God's peaceable Kin-dom here on Earth.

In the end as the WCBers turned to leave, the crowd started into an enthusiastic rendition of, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey,goodbye.” Not the most loving thing that happened, but one would be pressed to say it wasn't heart felt.

As we headed back to the car, one of the ladies behind us started singing a Journey song, to which one of my travel-mates said, “There's always a Journey song for anytime.” I couldn't help but agree... “Don't stop, believin' – Hold on to the feelin'” Sure, a bit cheesy, but true.

Rev. Sandlin Blogs at The God Article

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Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids — blind, lame and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a very long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (John 5:2-7)

The poor man had been ill for 38 years. He obviously had some kind of paralysis. Hebrew tradition has it that every once in awhile an angel would descend from heaven and stir up the waters. The first person to make it into the waters before they stopped churning would be healed.

From time to time this man would have someone bring him on a mat to lie by the Sheep Gate, and maybe because he was leprous or possibly had a contagious disease, there was nobody who wanted to be around to help him be the first one in the water. Or maybe the temple authorities were just too busy with their religious duties to help him. Then Jesus came along, and well, he healed the man and the rest of the story is there for you to read.

When I think about this passage I’m immediately reminded of the Conservative Christian attitude towards universal heath care. Millions of people are finding that their insurance won’t cover certain illnesses. Millions more can’t afford insurance at all. Children and the elderly are hit the hardest, two particular stages of life when lack of adequate and quality health care can be a traumatic blow.

Yet Republicans and conservative Christians believe that we should not bother helping the poor man get into the pool before everyone else so that he can be healed. As a matter of fact, don’t help any of them in because they all don’t deserve it. “How did they end up there in the first place?” Like Pharaoh said of the Israeli  slaves, “They must be idle. Give them more work to do.”

Aside from important church state issues, I don’t understand how the Right can refer to our country as “Christian.” We spent trillions of dollars on two wars that were initiated on lies. After being bailed out, CEOs from our largest mega corporations continue to make 300 times more than their average employees. The rich still get richer, the middle class is disappearing, and the poor get poorer.

Yet television evangelists continue to ask people to send money in to their “ministries,” and while we have the greatest medical technology on the face of the earth the Right complains about who will foot the bill for universal health care.

When their Savior loved them so much he died on a cross for them, and while he was here on earth with no strings attached healed and fed hurting and hungry people, I am continually amazed that people of a “Christian” nation would so tenaciously cling to the Social Darwinist “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” philosophy. 

I sincerely don’t believe that the Christian Right’s fear of government is so deeply entrenched that they won’t even consider that same government providing health care for its citizens.  I think it boils down to fear and greed masquerading as a pseudo morality. Why else could the late Jerry Falwell confide to his congregation that he likes what Rush Limbaugh has to say, when Limbaugh is a man who constantly maligns the homeless as people who deserve what they get. Why else would a rich politician named Michele Bachmann call herself a Christian and have town hall meetings advocating the denial of universal health care to our poorest because she thinks it will lead to “socialism?” And how else could the “Reverend” Pat Robertson call natural disasters punishment for those who are sick, have lost family members, or have lost their homes?

These are the religious people of Jesus’ day here on earth who would not have helped the lame man get into the pool as the waters churned. Their civil self-help religion would tell them to pass the man by because chances are that he did something evil to deserve his condition, and besides, he can get a job and work so that he can afford insurance.

We have an opportunity through our government  to stop and help and not pass by the lame man; To help one another carry him in to the waters when the angel descends to stir them up; To get him back on his feet and praise the Lord, because god can do miracles through government too.

So if conservatives really believe they are followers of Christ, if we ourselves really believe that we are so, then we should all keep protesting and pushing for universal health care. I’m not talking about reform. Chances are that today’s insurance industry would have denied coverage to the lame man at the Sheep gate because of the preexisting condition of “invalidism,” and despite Obama’s reform, they would hire the best lawyers to locate loopholes for denial of coverage. We need to bypass the insurance industry altogether. It is rich enough for it’s employees to be well remunerated until they find other jobs to do.

Shout it from the house tops that free universal health care is a God given right for every man woman and child. That God is not so lacking in omniscience that he can’t use government to help us. If he used the state of the art highway system and government structure of the Roman occupation to advance the gospel and spread civilization in the first century, then today he can use our modern “secular” government to help us with our health care and provide us with coverage. After all, this is a big part of the good news, or gospel. The lame man at the Sheep gate shouldn’t have had to wait 38 years for someone to come along and help him. Neither should we.

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This page [The Christian Left] is sooo important. The message has been skewed worldwide, IMHO. I think it's very unfortunate that nobody understands true Christianity.

Many folks base Christianity on what they see and hear from conservative preachers, which I feel is the antithesis of Christ’s teachings.

They also tend to try and ram it down people’s throats, making people feel uncomfortable and awkward.

The travesties of organized "Christianity" such as pedophile priests and money begging preachers make most folks think its all a scam; but Christ is not the scam. It’s the perpetrators doing the scamming in the name of Christ.

When I watch these conservative preachers on TV, they’re not preaching Jesus. They’re preaching the old testament, or talking about conservative politics, and they rarely mention Jesus ... What’s up with that???

It makes me wonder if many of these so called preachers are really luciferians deceiving folks on purpose. There’s a lot of speculation on that. I tend to believe that, because look at how the majority of Americans look upon Christianity. They have at best a skeptical view of it. Many despise it. Some so hate the false messages and molestations and money grubbing, they are avowed atheists.

False teachings are quite powerful and affective at tarnishing true Christianity. I’m not judging conservative Christians. They should believe whatever they want to believe, but I think they missed the point totally! Maybe on accident; maybe on purpose. Maybe they got hoodwinked or scammed into believing false teachings; or, maybe they got lured by the devil into believing false teachings.

Besides the obvious, that Christ is true salvation and everlasting life, He was also about helping the needy, especially the children, the poor, the sick, the hungry. He was about redemption. One could be absolved of sin, and start anew. He CARED ABOUT PEOPLE.

I do not see this from the conservative side at all. They care about MONEY. Jesus didn't care about money. He said to give it all away. He said that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet so many Christians chase after riches and wealth. Why??? I could see becoming rich to help those in need. That makes sense. Like Bill Gates, he’s giving his entire fortune away. I think he got the message, but most don’t.

Jesus' other main purpose was forgiveness; to not fight back; to be meek; to fight anger and hatred with love and enlightenment; to seek peace at all costs. He was a complete genius, and most everybody who dared to debate him lost because his wisdom superseded their seemingly rational rationales.

Let us not forget. Jesus was about LOVE. LOVE for God, and your brothers and sisters; and your enemies; and strangers; and those who could care less about you; and those of other faiths, and those of no faith. We are ALL brothers and sisters!

If everybody loved everybody the way Jesus loves everybody, there wouldn't be any more wars, or hunger, or hatred, or cruelty. We would be living something close to heaven on earth.

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