To Westboro, To Klansmen, To Angels, To Newtwon: A Series of Open Letters

by: Lindsay Popper


A series of open letters regarding the really puzzling and alarming and strangely heartwarming and definitely confusing news about the fact that the KKK staged a counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of a soldier’s funeral in 2011 which was brought to light again when WBC decided, inexplicably and heartbreakingly, to protest funerals in Newtown

Dear Westboro Baptist Church,
What the actual fuck?
More sad than angry, but definitely still angry,

Dear Ku Klux Klan,
Look. I get it. They’re crazy. You only have to spend a little bit of time reading through their website’s “frequently asked questions” to start feeling like everything is wrong with the world, but don’t think for a second that you can call them obnoxious and we’ll all just forget how for over a century you’ve shown up white-hooded and too ashamed to show your faces while you terrorized and mobbed and lynched and did everything in your power to make people who were different from you feel like they were less than human. Don’t for a second think this gets you off the hook.
You’re not getting any gold stars from me,

Dear Westboro Baptist Church,
You know what? Actually, I’m not done with you.
This feels personal. It feels personal because when you sent out a press release saying that you were going to show up at those funerals in that town where people’s babies were gunned down point-blank you said what you were going to do was “sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” You said God wanted this. You said that. You said all of that in the name of your God, which, as much as it confuses me to think it, is the same as the name of my God. The God I’m praying to when I get off the phone with my queer friends from my conservative evangelical summer camp–the God I’m insisting still loves them, and likes them, and affirms them–is the God you’re claiming on your “God hates fags” signs, and it’s the same God you’re saying sanctioned all this bloodshed. And because of that, I can’t ignore you, and I can’t write you off. But hear this: while you’re out picketing on “the mean streets of doomed America,” I’ll be out on those same streets looking people in the eyes and telling them I love them and I’ll be saying it loud enough to drown you out. I’ll be saying it until my voice goes hoarse and then I’ll just look at people with love. I have very expressive eyes. I’ll get the message across however I need to.
Still louder than you,

Dear Charlotte and Daniel and Olivia and Josephine and Ana and Dylan and Madeline and Catherine and Chase and Jess and James and Grace and Emilie and Jack and Noah and Caroline and Jessica and Avielle and Benjamin and Allison,
No God that I call on killed you: not for the sins of this nation and not because God needed more angels in some terrifying heavenly dead-child choir or more stars in the already-pretty-well-stellated sky. I can’t play the why-did-this-happen game for very long before I have to just put my hands up empty. But this much I know: I would have loved to play Legos with you. I would have let you be the purple princess in “Pretty Pretty Princesses” every single time. I would have shared my string cheese with you and on nights when you couldn’t sleep I would have sung you every song I know that could pass for a lullaby and when that didn’t work I’d let you sit on my lap while we watched Ninjago, and when you got to that awkward 5th-grade in-between stage I would have showed you pictures of how awkward I was when I was ten and I would have bought you your first bra myself without making you walk through the lingerie department at Kohl’s because my goodness some things can just be avoided and when your first love dumped you in high school I’d take you to the recycling plant after dark and we’d throw bottles against walls until we forgot her name.
I’m not going to turn you into pawns in some big debate. I’m not going to use you to make some point about God and suffering; I’m not going to use you as proof in a seminary essay on theodicy. You’re six year olds. All I want to do is push you on the swings.
Love, so much love,

Dear Hells Angels who showed up to form a human barricade long enough and fierce enough that it kept the Westboro Baptist Church far away from the mourners at the Newtown funerals,
I’m glad it was you. I’m glad this time it wasn’t the KKK with an anemic counter-protest but instead a huge band of men and women in huge leather jackets. And I’m glad it wasn’t me, because I’m small and wear flowery dresses and even when I hate everything someone stands for I still look pretty friendly, but you, you guys look pissed, even your facial hair looks like it has a bone to pick with the whole world. You’re what we needed, all of us: a band of people who are threatening and loving and ride in on really loud motorcycles and show the haters that no one wants to see any of their shit.
In solidarity,

Dear bloggers and newscasters and facebook-re-posters who latched onto the “which hate group is the worst hate group?” game,
Did you think you were going to get off the hook?
Turns out we don’t just get to sit here in our comfortable homes and feel smugly better than the hate-mongers. Turns out that, even when we don’t show up carrying damning signs or burning crosses, we’re still doing the same thing they’re doing every time we keep our mouths closed in this world that perpetuates so much hatred and oppression and violence. Turns out we’re playing their game, whether or not we want to, and we’ll keep playing until we actually put ourselves on the line to stand up for people and to stand up for love.

At the end of the day, I think this IS actually about racism and homophobia, and I think it’s about white supremacy, and I think it’s about gun control, and I think it’s about the patriarchy, and I think it’s about all of us trying to place the blame on someone else instead of on ourselves, and I think it’s political, and I think it’s personal, but more than any of that, at the end of the day, I think it’s about having a heart that’s broken and breaking every single day. I think it’s about feeling those broken hearts beating in our chests and looking out on the broken world.

At the end of the day, I think this is a story about mourning. It’s about mourning that there are 28 people in Connecticut who are dead who shouldn’t be dead. It’s about mourning that we live in the type of world where we’re talking about how to feel about the fact that the KKK is willing to protest the Westboro Baptist church. It’s about mourning that, since the Newtown shooting, so many other people have died from gun violence and hate crimes and hunger and AIDS and just for being the wrong type of person in the wrong place at the right time and my heart hurts and I want to stand up to it and I want to do something in this world to make it safer and gentler and saner, but in order to do that, y’all, we have to look this wounded world full in the face, and we have to mourn.
With sadness and hope and more love than you could really ever imagine,

5 responses to “To Westboro, To Klansmen, To Angels, To Newtwon: A Series of Open Letters

  1. I usually get shy about commenting on posts, but I have to write to say thank you for writing this. It sums up so many of my feelings, more eloquently than I have been able. Thanks – God Bless

    • hey thanks! I usually get shy about writing stuff and posting it on the internet for lots of folks to see, but then I remember that there are people like you who are reading and connecting and feeling, and then it feels a little more OK that I’m putting my heart way out on my sleeve. thanks! -lrp

  2. I really want to like this, but then I get sad that events like this even happen in the first place. In an ideal world there would be nothing for me to like because an article such as this shouldn’t need to exist at all. Thank you for putting into words things I’m not sure I would have known how to express myself.

  3. Lindsay, the Westboro people made my blood boil when they threatened to show up and protest at a funeral I presided over for a young soldier from our church who was shot in Iraq. The Patriot Guard did show up, along with thousands from our church and town. The Westboro folks didn’t show up. They made everybody angry. That’s mostly what they are good at.

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