I do believe I have just experienced one of the best Valentine’s Days in my life, even if the “blind date” I was supposed to meet was a no show, and a stand in decided to show instead at the last minute.
Why was a holiday about love without a single hint of romance such a success in my eyes today? Not because of the fact that my romantic life is non-existent, not that I really care these days, but that I got to witness and participate in a whole other demonstration of love; the love of the people in my community, by people in my community.
Let’s back up to Saturday and catch everyone up. It was discovered that the group also known as Westboro Baptist Church was planning to protest at Converse College on Monday evening. The reason for the protest was a documentary about hate, different groups who exist or perpetuate hate, and some dialog about the whys such thing exist and possible solutions to eliminate it. The WBC is strongly featured in the film, and it is through interviews, or the group’s founder and his family that the viewer gets a pretty good insight of who they focus their hate on and why. Even though this group has a habit of posting locations on their website, listing where they will appear only not bother showing up at all, it wasn’t long before a Facebook group was formed and organization began to stages a response to our visitors and their message.
Within 48 hours, a fund raising drive was begun to support two local charities that was certain to be in opposition to our proposed visitor’s views, thank you notes written, permits by the city gathered so that we could have a visible location to state our own views, and several were planning on viewing the documentary afterwards. Converse college’s response was to move the film’s location to a venue that would accommodate more people. There was also a student led movement to also demonstrate the opposite views of the incoming visitors.
The theme of the community led group was audacity which was to be liberally dosed with silliness, and the gathering was light-hearted, and it was a wonderful opportunity to meet more people within our community. At the response to the incoming visitors, there was a nice cross spectrum of people represented. There were people who brought their kids, a couple of couples, a good number of young adults, and several older individuals including a dear woman who used to teach at Converse. There is no doubt that difference in political or religious views were present, but it didn’t matter. We were there as a unified body, to tell our proposed visitors that we love our community and everyone that lives within it’s borders and beyond. People were enjoying each other’s company, laughing at the signs made, and taking photos. Several members of the press, not us, we were “making the news” were also present. They interviewed a few people and also took photos.
The group that started the whole thing? Well, they didn’t show up. About halfway into the designated time frame, a substitute groups showed. They stood on the opposite side of the street, got their few minutes of press time, and held three signs, none of which were easy to read in the growing darkness. There was approximately 100 in our group, representing the community, the substitute group had maybe 7. At the proper time, we dispersed and several of us crossed the street to enter Converse Campus so that we view the film that was the intended target all along.
The documentary is entitled. Anatomy of Hate. It is a very powerful piece that allows different groups of people to discuss their views, in their own words and some of the reasons why the believe the way they do. Westboro Baptist is just one of the featured groups of the film. Also featured were a white Supremacists group, a man who is serving a death row sentence, Palestinians and Israelis. There are some time spent with some men who served in Iraq during the conflict there.
The film also included three social scientists who discuss some of the reasoning behind why we hate. The first was because of fear. Fear can amplify a sense of threat, according to one of the social scientists. We are hard-wired to fear danger. Amplifying that sense of threat by using fear can be used to control, or manipulate outcomes. Seeing in the case of the religious group and the White Supremacists group, it is easy to see how using fear to spur hate is carried out. One Westboro youth said the one thing he feared more then anything else was the fear of hell. According to him, if carrying out his pastor’s will kept him out of hell, the thing he feared most, then he was willing to do what his pastor told him to do. Another scientist pointed out that hate is not an instinctual thing but rather something that one is trained to believe, a learned mindset.
It was difficult seeing children, often quite young being exposed and taught things that were so outrageous and with such potential for tragedy. That was made painfully clear in the case of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. For many, the line in the sand is drawn, and the line is passed from generation to generation. In the case of the US soldiers, the job they are given is because of the decisions of others. They are told that those guys are the enemies, now go get rid of them. In every case, someone will face the loss of a loved one. The stories of those who had lost loved ones to the harvest hate sows were the hardest to watch. To see the loved one’s visible pain at knowing that nothing could bring those sons and daughters back was heartbreaking.
While the film displayed some brief displays of violence and the language of some of the people filmed was quite difficult to hear, much less to realize that some of the phrases were coming out of the mouths of children, the best part was yet to come. That was how people can overcome hate. The focused method was to actually get to know one’s perceived enemy. As a former Israeli soldier put it. “If one stops looking at someone as an enemy, then there is a good chance they will become a partner.” Demonstrations of that occurring within the soldier’s country and with the Army’s work with local military and civilians were shown.
The film’s first interview was with a man who belonged to a group that had taken a highly militant stance. They believed that they needed to start a revolution to put a stop to things they felt were harmful to the nation. One of the targets of those they needed to eliminate to restore the nation to a purer form was the gay community. A Gay church was targeted and one of the group’s members, the interviewee, agreed to deliver a bomb that would detonate during a worship service at that church.
The end of the film returned to that man, who found himself in that church, with a suitcase full of explosives waiting for his opportunity. For some reason, he found himself looking at the congregation, not as those hated gays, but as men and women, sons and daughter, parents and grandparents. He realized that those people had others that loved them, and that the suitcase bomb was strong enough to injure people across the street who had no relationship to the people inside the church. He also realized that they were worshiping where they were because they wanted to worship with God, just as he wanted to do in his own church. They were worshiping in their own church because many churches wouldn’t allow openly gay people within their own sanctuaries. They wanted the same thing from religion that he wanted, grace, acceptance, and peace. That was the turning point in this man’s life. He got up, suitcase in hand, and he and his companion walked back out of the church.
The death row inmate knew that he could never undo what he had done when he took the life of a shop owner. There was no “I’m sorry” that would restore what he had destroyed. To be willing to look into a camera and tell his story and voice his regret yet see the hope in his eyes that his words could possibly help others was very poignant.
As was pointed out at the end of the film overcoming man’s propensity to hatred is not an easy thing. It will be difficult, but the results are well worth it. It is a film I would highly recommend, but only to older age groups. As mentioned some of the language and visuals are quite strong and not meant for young audiences. Although they likely will never realize it, Westboro Baptist Church did this community, and Converse College a huge favor. The handed to us a wonderful opportunity to take steps to overcome the types of hatred portrayed in the documentary. They allowed us to be unified for the cause of love, setting aside petty differences for the thing more important. They were the catalyst to bringing awareness to this film, and were likely instrumental in helping bring more people then expected to it’s viewing. It is so sad to know that so many people exist in a world where hate is so much a part of every day life. If we can continue to take steps every day to help rid our community and hopefully the world of such mindsets then today was a rousing success.
The title today is brought to you by an ancient sage, but is only part of the quote. The whole quote, credited to the Buddha states. “Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.” The film maker, during the Q & A session after the film mentioned that he found it interesting that it often took the actions of those who promote hate to spur the opposite such as what happened Monday evening. He had a point. We tend to let hatred and bigotry slide right past our awareness unless it either comes to our back door or happens directly to us or those we know. Maybe because we too fall into the trap of fear, fear of repercussions, of being to made to look foolish, of confrontation, of being threatened with bodily harm or other similar threats. It is an unknown thing we face when we try to counter hatred. Yet look at the legacies of those who went before us, who faced all that hatred could throw at them even death, so that we could learn from their lessons of peace, people who all represented religious thought and practice in different yet similar ways; people like a political leader named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a pastor named Martin Luther King, a carpenter named Jesus.
Let us not then wait till the next time hate comes to town. Let us instead continue what was started, and work to make our community more inviting to the superior concept of peace, respect and love.