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Westboro Baptist Church to picket Newtown funerals

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Krista Rekos, the mother of Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting victim Jessica Rekos, is embraced after her funeral at Saint Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Connecticut (Credit:Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

Westboro Baptist Church, the tiny Kansas congregation known for picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers and AIDS victims, has announced plans to picket a vigil for Sandy Hook Elementary School “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”  In recent days, the pastor’s family (which comprises most of the congregation) has sent tweets claiming that “God sent the shooter” to Newtown.

In response, the hacktivist group known as “Anonymous” has announced plans to launch an online attack on Westboro.  “Anonymous” has already become famous for cyber-attacks on the Pentagon, News Corp, and Israeli government websites.  Their video message to Westboro states, “We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior.  We will render you obsolete.  We will destroy you.  We are coming.”  “Anonymous” now appears to have taken down the church’s website and has launched a petition drive to have the church classified as a hate group.  More than 130,000 people have already signed it.

My point this morning is not to discuss the tactics of “Anonymous” in responding to Westboro, though that issue is indeed significant.  Rather, it is to think with you about biblical ways to respond to the Newtown tragedy.  Westboro’s actions are not only unconscionable, they are unbiblical.  They give skeptics evidence for their claim that our faith is irrelevant and even harmful to today’s society.

What our culture desperately needs is to see biblical Christianity in action.  First, we are to be the presence of Christ with those who grieve.  Christians are the hands and feet of Christ, the visible manifestation of his reality in our world (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Ask God to show you how to demonstrate his presence through yours.

Second, listen.  Those in grief do not need to hear our words nearly as much as they need us to hear theirs.  Let them tell their stories and give voice to their pain.  Job’s friends were a help to him until they began talking.  Ask God for a listening heart.

Third, offer practical help.  In the midst of unspeakable pain, many cannot function in their daily lives.  They need food, someone to clean their home, assistance with bills and other mundane things.  Ask God to show you practical ways you can help.

Last, get through today.  “Tomorrow” doesn’t exist.  This day is the only day there is.  Help those who hurt to be present with their friends and family in this moment.

The Christmas promise is that Jesus would be “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  In crisis, we are called to prove his love in ours.