The Westboro Baptist Church must be the most objectionable Christian community in the United States. You know them from their “God Hates Fags” and “God Loves Dead Soldiers” posters and from their inability to find communion with pretty much any other Christians. They are a fringe organization, not simply “fundamentalists,” with less followers than countless minority religious groups spread across the country.
I can’t remember the last time I saw an article about Jainism, or even Buddhism, so when should journalists spill ink on the Westboro Baptist Church?
That’s a question Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear, who chose not to pay any attention to Fred Phelps and his Westboro congregation when they showed up in Chi-Town to blame Jews for killing Jesus, asked at her blog, The Seeker. Brachear doesn’t actually answer the question, but, in a blogging style that is more reportorial than most, she speaks with a few rabbis and the head of Religion News Service about whether Westboro is worthy of newsprint:
Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom in Chicago said members of the congregation faced the same “tough decision” I did and decided shouting back would give the group too much legitimacy.
“There are lots of different and creative ways to protest,” Conover said. “But the more we do to get press coverage for them, the more we do a disservice to religion in general.”
Kevin Eckstrom, president of the Religion Newswriters Association, said “you can’t not cover them. The question is how much coverage do you give them.”
“The best way to cover them is to put them in perspective,” he added. “Say they’re radical, fringe, outside the mainstream and let their rhetoric speak for itself.”
I tend to agree with Eckstrom, though I think Westboro only needs to be covered when they are actually making news. (See: the lawsuit that followed their protest of Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral.) But at the same time reporters should be mindful that when they devote one of a finite number of daily news stories to a single church notable only because of the noise they make, that inevitably means there is that much less news space for more significant religion stories.
Not to extol the reportorial balance of Michael Moore, but in this video a skinnier Moore invites Phelps onto a very unholy bus