When we were kids, a classic joke went,
“What’s the hardest job in the world?”
“I don’t know. What is the hardest job in the world?”
“Wheeling West Virginia!”
Ah, the simple humor of youth. But, yesterday I witnessed what may be a harder job as people from diverse faith traditions gathered in Wheeling Park for a Peace Rally and Concert.
You see, the Westboro Baptist Church had brought their traveling hate show to town, protesting four local Catholic churches. Resisting the temptation to respond in anger, face-to-face with their incredibly offensive tactics and distortions of religious wisdom is a mighty task. Of course, any group whose web address proclaims that “God hates fags” is clearly only interested in inciting the basest response from people of faith and secular citizens committed to democracy and the freedoms that allow and protect even the most vile speech.
Instead, a coalition of religious leaders, in large part spearheaded by our own Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Ohio Valley, held a wondrous celebration of compassion. After an invocation including myself and various Jewish and Christian leaders, we witnessed one talented performer after another, including an amazing 64-year-old belly dancer who simply exuded joy in her gyrations. The theme of the event was “Standing on the Side of Love,” and the banners and signs were displayed prominently. At the same time, the several hundred people in attendance contributed over $1,000 to the families of the Upper Big Branch miners in Montcoal, West Virginia.
Responding to hate with hate only fans the flames of violence in our world. Standing on the side of love adds warmth to the chilliest clime and light to the darkest recesses.