St. John’s Passes Tolerance Test

Perhaps you heard about the extended family that is the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, that recently barnstormed through Tampa, rhetorically pillaging as it went. Maybe two dozen in number, they shouted their offensive litany at several sectarian venues, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hyde Park. The Westboro web site,, pretty much tells you everything you need to know to have an informed opinion of them.

They are precisely what we see entirely too much of: loathsome yahoos and repellent odd balls deigning to speak for the Deity. Pat Robertson never looked so elevated.

I witnessed the confrontation at St. John’s, winced at the vulgar hectoring and placarded insults and admired the tolerance and discipline of the 400 congregants who were subjected to the spew-fest. My most charitable thought: “Nothing good ever comes from inbreeding.”

Even the Rev. Douglas E. Remer, rector of St. John’s, got a hearty, probably off-the-record, perhaps therapeutic, laugh out of that one.

“When we heard they were coming, my first inclination was to give them a cup of coffee and invite them in to worship,” acknowledged Remer. “But the police said not to. Not to give them the satisfaction and the publicity.

“I thought I was prepared for their level of viciousness, but they surpassed that,” added Remer. “Not just slogans but personal insults – even to the (sidewalk queuing) chalice-bearers. That’s what I found most offensive. But not one of our folk took the bait.”

So, how did that Sunday’s sermon go?

“We have just witnessed the personification of hateful, hurtful behavior,” he told the congregation. “Within the context of everything we know, that is outside the bounds of Christian living. All we can do is control how we act. To return hatefulness is to sink to their level.”

No one did.

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