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The Protest Protest: Countering Hate With Love, by Rev. Mark Sandlin

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The Protest Protest: Countering Hate With Love, by Rev. Mark Sandlin

The group who gathered today near Edenton Street United Methodist Church (UMC), in order to counter the hateful message which Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) brought with them, was a diverse and, mostly, well mannered group whose message of love, grace and respect rang out in their largly quite protest.

The gathering began about 9 a.m. A small group of faithful counter protesters gathered on a corner a few block north of the church. Shortly after that the Raleigh police arrived and started setting up the barricades. Throughout the day, the police could not have been more professional, organized, orderly and helpful. Both groups of protesters showed great respect to the officers, a respect which they wholeheartedly deserved.

Our group arrived about 9:30. As we oriented ourselves to downtown Raleigh in search of the gathering place for the counter protest, we found ourselves squarely in front of Edenton Street UMC. It was hard to overlook the media circus there, but as we stopped to see the church and turned around to return to the gathering, something more interesting caught our eyes.

There on the sidewalk beneath our feet were messages left in chalk from a group who had gathered the night before, “We love you Elizabeth,” “God Speed Elizabeth,” “Rest In Peace.” It was just the right note on which to begin our non-violent protest.

At first the crowed came in slowly and, at times hesitantly, but by 10 a.m. their was a small but steady stream of people gathering. An early sign of what the demeanor of the largest majority of this group would be like arrived in the form of a random guy with two large boxes of piping hot coffee and cups with which to share it. On a 36 degree morning, it was a more than welcome sign of things to come.

Many of us were wearing blue in honor of Elizabeth as suggested by the movement “Just Wear Blue.” The blue quickly became accented with pink as one of the group organizers came around with pink streamers for everyone to wear both in memory of Elizabeth and in support of breast cancer awareness.

The crowd continued to grow. Before long, there were hundreds of us there, but the gathering could not have been more peaceful. Signs began to appear before WBC ever appeared, but these were signs of love and support, not the signs of hate that would later arrive with WBC. “God Loves Elizabeth Edwards,” “Hero,” “Hope,” “Grace.”

I climbed to a higher advantage point on some scaffolding to get a picture of the crowd who had gathered and no soon than I had pulled out my camera WBC made their appearance to an odd combination of 'boos' and something that wasn't quite cheers but at the same time indicated the crowd's collective recognition of why we had gathered.

The signs WBC pulled out, as expected, were just awful. I will not repeat them here. You can find pictures of the all over the Internet (including my personal FB page and on The Christian Left on FB as well).

While there were a few less than respectful shouts coming from our side (labeled, correctly, The Line of Love), the largest majority chose to use less aggressive methods of couter-protest. As the WBCers would start to shout something out or sing, The Line of Love would counter with our own song. When the film crews would begin to interview the WBCers, the crowd would chant, “Don't film them!,” or “Don't believe the hate!,” which both sent out our message and seemed to actually make it difficult to film them without a good deal of noise.

Despite the horrible things their signs said, I will say this, I never saw a WBCer being hostile, aggressive or even mean to anyone (other than their horrible signs). As I hinted at earlier, their exchanges with the police were particularly well handled and professional. Regardless of their behavior, their presence and their signs were enough to make their hate clear.

As time went on, we were not alone. Several bikers drove through continuing their tradition of revving their engines to intentionally drown out anything the WBCers tried to say. Each time they did, the crowd would cheer them on adding to the overwhelming blanket of sound.

There were bicyclers, people in cars with blasting music, a large black truck sporting a slightly over-sized American flag, a volvo painted in a multiplicity of colors... so many people, from some many backgrounds showing up to counter the hate. It's enough to make you start believing in hope again, believing in the good intention of the people of our nation when there is so much talk of further marginalizing the least of these, believing in the possibility of God's peaceable Kin-dom here on Earth.

In the end as the WCBers turned to leave, the crowd started into an enthusiastic rendition of, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey,goodbye.” Not the most loving thing that happened, but one would be pressed to say it wasn't heart felt.

As we headed back to the car, one of the ladies behind us started singing a Journey song, to which one of my travel-mates said, “There's always a Journey song for anytime.” I couldn't help but agree... “Don't stop, believin' – Hold on to the feelin'” Sure, a bit cheesy, but true.

Rev. Sandlin Blogs at The God Article

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