Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?

My no. 1 favourite American clergyman of all time is our former vicar. My least favourite is still Fred Phelps, I think (hey, everyone should have a list like this) but pasta-brained Terry Jones has shot to the penultimate position. Both have a lot in common, not least a total absence of anything in their ministry that resembles something Jesus Christ would be proud to see his disciples doing. (Edited to add: this will change if TJ actually backs down, turns the other cheek etc. which actually would be vaguely Christlike.)

I confess I have now lost track as to whether or not Jones intends to proceed with his burn-a-Koran-day plan tomorrow. I think he has, too. Anyway, people seem to have forgotten, or probably not noticed, that Phred was apparently way ahead of him back in 2008 (there’s a link on his, ahem, “church”‘s site: if you’re curious enough you can find it but I ain’t putting it here) and intends to repeat the stunt himself. Never try to outshow a showman.

Back to Jonesy: what has been so repellent about the whole thing has been watching this vile little man – well, little in every conceivable way except for his moustache – relishing his position as the cameras of the world turn on him and even the President of the United States has to ask him not to, please. The scale of his self-delusion and aggrandisement is staggering, really; imagining that he is now a world player, able to affect the siting of the New York mosque at the cost of a few hundred ordinary lives – which won’t be his fault, no sir, no. Even Phred isn’t quite that big-headed, but only because he has officially given up on the entire world except for his congregation and has no intention of trying to influence anyone.

There is however a Facebook group apparently run by Muslims: INTERNATIONAL BURN A QUR’AN (onto a CD) DAY. Nice one.

Back to Jones again and, ooh, scripture: that reminds me. I can do that. 1 Corinthians 10.23. Also, Matthew 7.22-23, and since I’m in the zone a bit of Romans 12.17-21. So there.

Shame Obama couldn’t just stand up and rattle those off. Bartlet would have. He’s my no. 1 favourite American President, you know.

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when …

… the Ku Klux Klan disowns any association with you.

Such is the fate of the Westboro Baptist Church – the church led by the not very Revd but extremely revved Fred Phelps that engages in such entertainments as picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq, said deaths being a sure sign of God’s judgement on the US for its toleration of homosexuality.

Though that’s not the only thing they picket. According to their schedule this month they intend to picket sundry churches, schools, synagogues and (yes, really) Bon Jovi. Their language is coarse, vulgar and abrasive; you get the feeling they are the kind of people who can only speak by thrusting their faces an inch away from yours and challenging you as offensively as possible on everything. There is nothing remotely Christ-like about them. See, for example, their subtly woven, intricately crafted exposition of why John 3.16 actually means that God hates (most of) the world. (Maybe they have a similar way out of Colossians 4.6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace …”)

I first heard of these individuals, I think, when they unleashed God Hates Sweden.com on the interwebs. Having a Swedish wife and a half-Swedish stepson I was curious to find out why. Apparently Swedish police had arrested pastor Ake Green who was laying down an OT-oriented view of homosexuality (and even he, I gather, has since repudiated this lot). The case was reinforced with cast-iron supporting evidence showing photos of King Carl XVI Gustaf looking “goofy” and Crown Princess Victoria in a low-cut dress. Well, that proves it.

This was followed up by God Hates Ireland.com (did I mention half-Swedish Bonusbarn is also half-Irish?). An Irish student union had invited Phelps to present his idiosyncratic viewpoint to a meeting, which he interpreted as a cunning plan to lure him out of the US so he could be arrested under Irish anti-hate laws.

After that they decided to go the whole hog with God Hates the World.com, where you can click on any country of the world (work still in progress) to find out why God hates that particular place. To save my UK readers (the majority) the trouble, he currently hates us because their church was banned from entering the country to picket “the fag propaganda play, The Laramie Project” in Basingstoke. Remember what I said about their way of speaking:

“You British Bastards will not have Jesus Christ to rule over you, and think you can issue bans and pass laws to remove God’s word from the landscape. You do greatly err, not knowing the power of God; and, you do that against your own interests. It is a great kindness to have God’s prophets in your land. But, you ungrateful brutes despise knowledge. It is too late for the UK. God Hates You! God’s wrath and destruction is all that’s left for you, thanks to Secretary Smith. Toodles!”

Sighs. I’m a Brit. It’s our nature to mock our enemies. It’s what we do. I remember a couple of Dave Allen jokes from my childhood (I know, he wasn’t a Brit but he had a good audience here) which actually served to increase my awareness of the world. In one, God asks a rather depressed Catholic outside Ian Paisley’s church why he’s upset.

“He won’t let me in!”

“I know, I’ve been trying for years …”

In another, a Dutch Reformed pastor is horrified to see an African kneeling in front of his altar.

“Oi! What are you doing?”

“I’m just cleaning the floor, sir.”

“Oh, that’s okay, I thought you were praying …”

For the same reason we had Spitting Image and Dead Ringers and we could sing “Hitler has only got one ball” during WW2. But even that individual had some comedy value, if you looked deep enough. Maybe I’m just not looking deep enough here but I’m really not seeing that much.

William Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’ illustrates the words of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” It shows a rather drippy, pre-Raphaelite Jesus knocking at a door. There is no outside latch on the door – it must be opened from inside, or not at all – and the door is half overgrown, suggesting Jesus has been knocking for a long time.

There must be a veritable forest outside Westboro Baptist Church by now, but Jesus has long arms.

Editorial note: due to the unusually large proportion of links to utterly loathsome web sites in this post, I’ve coded them all with tinyurl.com – just in case this blog shows up in a Google Alert somewhere for all the wrong reasons.

Every cross is a burning cross?

The Bible is quite big on the Cross, and why not? It’s kind of the point of the whole thing, really. I have a palm cross by my desk at work – not for the supernatural aura of protection that it exudes, but for conversation, and to remind me that there are higher things than the latest quarterly report, and (oh, all right) for decoration. And when I think of everything it’s meant to mean, I actually feel quite proud of it.

I hope I would have the humility to remove it if anyone found it offensive, though. From this I discount my former Jehovah’s Witness colleague, because lovely guy that he was, I don’t care if I wind up the JWs in general. At least, not in any areas of specious and/or totally made-up theology. But in other areas …

All this sparked by a recent blog post from Hal Duncan, a writer with whose work I am not familiar. An Open Letter to the Usual Suspects is a little more polemic than I would usually go for, and probably contains no words that your children don’t already know (but let’s not pass judgement), but it makes a couple of good points that I have not thought of before.

  1. The recent hoohah over the nurse forbidden to wear a cross with her nurse’s uniform tends to miss the point that dangly jewellery is a good vector for germs and diseases, and her freedom to witness to her faith is not the same as her freedom to give her patients MRSA. I don’t know if this has been taken into account or not, but feel it’s worth mentioning.
  2. (The big one.) The cross really is offensive to some people with good reason – specifically, as cited by Mr Duncan, gay or transgendered persons who have been on the receiving end of so-called Christian hate. I also think of Palestinians who lost loved ones in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, children abused by priests … I suspect the list could go on. Wearing a cross really is not going to get you any friends here. Hal puts it thusly: “every cross is a burning cross.”

Yes, yes, the burgeoning black pentecostal church, made of people whose forebears were persecuted by the Klan, seem to have got over it. Not the point. The getting over it was up to them, not imposed on them by others. I’m not taking my palm cross down on the off-chance that someone who once heard that Christians aren’t meant to approve of Teh Gay and fancies people of the same gender might get hurt. Hopefully exposure to me will by contrast bring a bit of love and light into their life, and if that positive exposure is amplified by contrast with their initially negative expectations then so much the better. But Hal’s post gives me cause to think twice before keeping it up, and to tune the antennae more sensitively should someone pass by who really has been hurt in the past.

St Paul can bang on a little about the virtues of the cross, and he was no great fan of homosexuality, and if you asked him about transgendered people you would have just got a blank look. But he also gives the exemplary advice of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33: our freedom to do stuff with a clear conscience does not come at the expense of other people’s hurt. Other people are more important.

I heard Nurse Chaplin on the radio this week saying that she put her cross on when she got confirmed and doesn’t want to take it off again. She is proud to witness for her faith. Well, fair enough. But putting your cross away, if it genuinely hurts people, is a much more powerful witness than displaying it come what may.