Little town Walnut Creek, California, where blonde is the color, Tiffanies is the store, Mercedes is the car and the average house price is $700,000, was the site of protests from Westboro Baptist Church. Four churches and an elementary school were protested by WBC and also counter protested.
Before WBC’s arrival, those joining the counter protest gathered, at Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, to do training in non-engaging protest. The tone was serious and the list of what to do and what not to do, was long and comprehensive. Each Church had encouraged members not to respond to the protesters directly, but to have a gentle, peaceful or silent response if at all. Another way support was encouraged was by joining the four congregations in this peaceful witness inside for their services.
Sunday March 25th 2018, and although a large crowd was discouraged so as not to feed into WBC craving for attention, about 150 people joined the counter protest outside MDUUC. I was one of them. We stood holding only signs that said ‘Just Love’, sang ‘This little light of mine’ (without the Jesus bit) umpteen times which effectively drowned out the very loud and trashy 80’s music played from the WBC car.
MDUUC is a very inclusive Church and they were targeted by WBC because they are inclusive of all irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion or even non religion, and the list of groups included is long. UUs are known for their activism and they will be holding a special ceremony for Transgender Visibility Day March 31st.
Why do I think this important to Pagans? I stood in this counter protest not just for MDUUC but as a Pagan - for all who are stand for peace, love and compassion. It was my duty to be there as the first Pagan to become an Elected Member of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), California. In order to become an Elected Member to join the Council applicants must represent a congregation. I can do this through membership Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and is the result of a lot of hard work by Don Frew, Macha Nightmare and others (forgive me if I have not mentioned you here). CoG is good at Interfaith.
Showing support, standing in Solidarity with other congregations helps with changing the perception of what it is to be a Pagan. Whilst I am keenly aware that not everyone wants to be out of the proverbial ‘broom closet’, and I am not advocating for everyone to step out, we are a growing religion/spiritual tradition/substitute your version of what it is here. People, at least loads in Interfaith are hugely supportive of Pagans.
Here is an example of that support. Last year the Pagan Festival in Berkeley was cancelled due to a number of reasons that included not being able to ensure the safety of participants. I briefly mentioned this in an email to a sub group of ICCCC - Interfaith Climate Action Network, I also work with. The outpouring of support, uncalculated and spontaneous. by members who include a Muslim, Presbyterians, UUs, as well as Atheists and others, was heart warming.
Maybe the real reason WBC came to town was because it is a very wealthy one and allegedly WBC can profit from demonstrations. The WBC is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such groups nationally. WBC “proselytize” all those groups who don’t believe as they do, including other Baptists they don’t agree with. They have also been known to attempt to entrap municipalities or counter protesters for “not protecting their first amendment rights of free speech” in order to bring law suits against them.