“The Most Hated Family in America” visited Salem Alliance Church on Sunday morning.
During the transition of Salem Alliance’s first and second church services, members of Westboro Baptist Church stood at a corner across the street from the church to protest some of Salem Alliance’s views. In addition to signs, they played modified versions of popular songs such as “Same Love,” by Macklemore, “Happy,” by Pharrell, and “Rumor has it,” by Adele. In place of the original lyrics, the cover songs featured words and messages related to the ideas stated on their signs.
Pastor Steve Fowler sent an email out to congregation members a few days prior, preparing them for Westboro Baptist’s visit and how to best respond to the situation. In the email, Fowler said Westboro Baptist was targeting Salem Alliance because, “we believe that God loves everyone, because we believe that salvation has been provided through Jesus Christ for everyone and because we have women pastors.”
Westboro Baptist is known for their extreme ideologies, their messages against gay people and their frequent protesting at a variety of places including churches, funerals and concerts. In addition to Salem Alliance, Westboro Baptist protested two other Salem churches on Sunday: St. Vincent de Paul Parish Community and Peoples Church.
Across the street, on the side nearest the church, stood counter-protesters with signs that had messages such as “Jesus preached love—not hate!” and “God hates no-one.”
Many of the regular Salem Alliance church-goers opted for a less confrontational approach.
“As a church, we tried to respond by not engaging with the protesters, just smiling and walking past them,” student Olivia Wall said. “I think Salem Alliance represented Christ very well because we didn’t let the enemy distract us from our mission to show Christ’s love to all people.”
Student Lauren Moore agreed with Wall in how well she thought Salem Alliance responded.
“I think our church responded with grace, humility, and care for the church body,” Moore said.
At the beginning of the 9:30 a.m. service, Fowler acknowledged the situation in front of the church. After discussing the email he sent out to congregation members, Fowler said he and other staff members had received emails of support from local churches who said they would pray for the congregation.
“I think the coolest part was when Pastor Fowler was reading the emails of support from other churches,” Moore said. “It changed what could have been a really negative situation, and instead I got to see how unified the church body could be.”
After sharing the emails, Fowler discussed how they, the church body, should respond.
“In situations like this, we’re citizens of a different kingdom; we follow a different sort of conduct,” Fowler said.
Fowler then quoted 1 Peter 4:14-16, which says, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (NIV)
“Church, we should look at this as a back-handed compliment,” Fowler said after quoting the Scripture.
Fowler then discussed how, like Westboro, Salem Alliance demonstrates what they believe.
“We demonstrate in different ways: feeding the hungry, buying wood for those without warmth, delivering furniture, reaching out to those struggling with addictions, feeding the homeless,” Fowler said.
“We picket by showing our love for the city.”