It’s being widely reported that Westboro Baptist Church, the extremist anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-sanity sect led by Pastor Fred Phelps, will have members present and protesting at Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral, scheduled for Saturday. The funeral will be open to the public.
Westboro hasn’t stated why, exactly, it’s protesting Edwards’ funeral. Something about issues in her personal life they object to. But what could they actually object to? That she lost her son? That she had to endure through the indignity of a philandering husband from whom she’s legally separated? That she was diagnosed with terminal cancer while still in her fifties and with young children? Or is it that she has grappled, publicly with her faith in God? In an interview with Jonathan Alter, Edwards talked about her faith in relation to both her illness and the loss of her son. She told him:
“I’m not praying for God to save me from cancer. God will enlighten me when the time comes. And if I’ve done the right thing, I will be enlightened. And if I believe, I’ll be saved. And that’s all he promises me…….”I had to think about a God who would not save my son. Wade was—and I have lots of evidence; it’s not just his mother saying it—a gentle and good boy. He reached out to people who were misfits and outcasts all the time. He could not stand for people to say nasty things about other people; he just didn’t want it. For a 16-year-old boy, he was really extraordinary in this regard. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. You’d think that if God was going to protect somebody, he’d protect that boy. But not only did he not protect him, the wind blew him from the road. The hand of God blew him from the road. So I had to think, “What kind of God do I have that doesn’t intervene—in fact, may even participate—in the death of this good boy?”
When it comes to faith, this is the most basic question a believer must confront. How do we reconcile faith in God with tragedy? It is a biblical struggle taken up by both Job and Jesus Christ himself on the cross as told in the passion of Mark when Jesus cries out “My father, my father why have you forsaken me?” (15:34, I think.)
Elizabeth Edwards was a smart, ambitious, complicated person who chose to live a public life and so the great drama that unfolded in her personal life was played out on the most public stage imaginable. Given the kind of religious talk we so often hear in this country, where faith in God is bandied about as if it were as straightforward as eating an ice cream cone, it is extraordinary that she could publicly discuss her faith and its challenges in a meaningful way that (almost) anyone can recognize as genuine. This is a productive discussion of faith in the public square. Then again, Westboro isn’t talking faith. It speaks only of hate.
I guess the only thing that can be said about the people who will show up on Saturday, and who regularly protest the funerals of soldiers who’ve fallen in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that they can do that because we live in a country where we’re all allowed to speak – professions of faith, professions of hate, it all can be put out there. It’d be better if they weren’t there, but if anyone can take the puny cries of the small minded, it’s Elizabeth Edwards. She’s been through a lot worse.
What do you think about Westboro’s plans to protest Elizabeth Edwards funeral?