It’s times like this I wish I was home in Colorado. Tonight friends and fellow Coloradans are gathering at the Aurora Municipal Center for a prayer vigil in response to the Thursday theatre shooting where over 70 people were shot and 12 killed. Tweeting words of giddy hate, the notorious Westboro Baptist Church has announced their own intention to show up to protest the vigil and memorial. WBC has used countless memorial services as an opportunity to preach a twisted message of the hatred of God. The group asserts that America’s tolerance of homosexuality brings about acts of violence, such as the Century 16 Theatre shooting in Aurora. The church stands under the belief that God sent the shooter. WBC wants to be present to make sure the message of God’s hate is given a proper voice in the midst of deep mourning. But there is another group showing up tonight at the vigil. Two thousand Coloradans are gathering to protect those at the vigil from the venom and hatred of those from Westboro. In the same way hundreds of maroon-wearing Texas A&M students and alumni made a human wall at a recent military funeral in College Station, so these Coloradans are coming together to stand between the prayer vigil and the angry WBC mob.
A high school friend invited me to protest Westboro’s planned picketing. Reading the event’s Facebook page, I felt solidarity with people I didn’t know. I felt connected, united in purpose with the thousands of comments and lives represented. We all wanted so much to see hate quieted. We all wanted to see mourning given voice and pain a chance to be healed.
So, tonight, in Aurora, three groups are expected to be present at the same event: the hurting, the armed-with-hatred attackers, and those who stand between the two. These people are showing up to support the families of the victims, but also to support the crux of what it is to be human. They will form a physical wall. And they will stand against the violence that has happened and the violence dealt anew. There will be people who absorb hate so that the arrows won’t pierce the victim’s families as deeply. There will be people standing arm in arm and speaking with their lives a deep intolerance toward violence.
I wish Westboro Baptist Church could understand that the reactive act of 2,000 Coloradans is the real picture of the Church. Westboro claims to be the church, coming with the news of God, but the human shield standing against Westboro is the group reflecting the heart of Jesus. Coming together for the purpose of love, creating a wall of solidarity and peace—this is God alive in our community. This is what God looks like: people standing on behalf of those who can’t stand on their own and holding up others who are so tired and broken by the world that they can’t see hope. This is what it is to be the face of God in the world: not trying to fix pain, but walking with people in the midst of deep pain.
Of course it’s necessary to fight the evil, demand justice, and stand up against hatred with reckless abandon. But it is often more necessary to stand beside people as they have to endure great loss and pain. We are not always called to be warriors but we are always called to be peacemakers.
WBC chooses to aim their spiteful message toward families already victimized and wounded. They kick people while they’re down. They deepen wounds and extinguish hope for those who desperately need hope to keep going. WBC represents the horrific, violent agenda of the evil in our world.
And today I was reminded from the thousands united on behalf of the victims in Aurora what it is to love as Jesus loves.
We are called to stand in the gap—that place between the hurting and victimized and the evil that keeps shooting and reloading. When we are advocates for those who mourn, we are following Jesus. We were meant to hold people as they cry, and weep with them as they weep.
What would it look like if we loved like Jesus and upheld those who were weak and supported the emotionally devastated in our world? What if we truly lived life as peacemakers instead of religious agenda pushers?
It’s terribly inconvenient. It isn’t easy to put yourself between the victims and the protestors. But this position of peacemaker is what we were made for. We were made to bring the heart of God into the midst of chaos. There is a God who holds those who hurt and shows unending compassion. And this kind of love is costly.
Too many of my decisions are made to raise my self-comfort and ease. But I don’t know if we’re really alive unless we accept our place as peace-representatives. We can’t live unless we love well.