If you haven’t seen the video of Russell Brand’s interview with Steve and Timothy from Westboro Baptist Church, then I would recommend watching it on the link below before you read the rest of this, seeing as every point that I address will be directly from that interview. It’s only 10 minutes long so it’s not too bad, and it’s also well worth a watch:
Before I start, let me just make it clear that I am not an expert on the things that are discussed in the interview, I’m just going to make sense of what they’re saying from a Biblical point of view. Not all Christians will share my views, I accept that, but where possible, I will back my statements up with evidence and if something is purely opinion then I will try to make that clear. I’ll try not to be too serious all the time, but some of the stuff is quite deep so bear with me. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading this.
Steve: “I want to bring you a sign…” (0:17) – As Russell Brand points out, the sign is clearly offensive, with a picture of Russell and the words ‘Fag Pimp Brand’ in large capital letters. I can assure anyone who hasn’t read the Bible, that Jesus DID NOT endorse giving offensive signs to people. On a more practical note, I can’t imagine it being a very good evangelical technique. Who wants to join a religion that unashamedly insults them with slang, just to make a point?
Russell: “In the world of vitriolic hate speak, ‘fag’ means…” (O:55) – Yes, this is hate speak. I may be wrong, but hate doesn’t seem to come into the gospels, but there will be more on this later. Immediately, the command to ‘love your neighbour’ comes into mind. Again, I’ll talk about this later because the Westboro Baptists put their own spin on this.
Timothy: “You’re an advocate for sin” (1:00) – Well, Russell knows more about what he advocates than what I do. At least Timothy isn’t afraid to say these things to Russell’s face.
Russell: “It does take courage and bravery to come and speak in front of a roomful of people you think almost certainly aren’t going to agree with you” – Fair enough. I’d just like to highlight here that in general, I quite like Russell’s attitude in the interview, although it’s his job to be funny, entertaining and a bit mocking, at times he genuinely tries to engage with Steve and Timothy which allows people to actually take what all 3 of them say with a degree of seriousness.
Steve: “You make your living making a mockery of sin” (1:18)- I’m not going to say that Russell Brand is a saint just to disagree with the Westboro Baptists, let me just make that clear. He isn’t a saint, but it’s also important to remember that ALL (even Steve and Tim) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), I know that I have, certainly.
Timothy: “Since you promote sin, you hate all these kind people” (1:22) – This is quite an assertion to make. Does promoting sin mean you hate all people? These two guys seem to suggest that it means you hate people on some subconscious level. I disagree. I’m not drawing on Biblical evidence for this because I don’t know of any verse that confirms or denies this argument, so this is what I believe. If you ‘promote sin’ or to put it another way, if you don’t promote God, of course you can still love people! I don’t think the Westboro Baptists have any right to make claims about who people love or hate. I get their point here and there is some sense in it, I just don’t think it fits with real life experience.
Russell: “I don’t applaud any sins what’s hurting people or yourselves” (1:30) – This is an issue of morality. Biblically, it is not right to sin in any way, regardless of what harm you do or don’t cause by it, I’m sure the Baptists would agree with me on this. A sin is a sin. However, I also see what Russell’s saying and clearly he’s trying to defend himself here! In a sense, I agree with what the Baptists are saying and I’m inclined to agree that it doesn’t matter what YOUR view of sin is, what matters is God’s view. In Jesus’ sermon of the mount (Matt 5; Luke 6) he makes it clear that even thoughts and intentions can be sins. Sin is so pervasive that the only way we can be innocent is through Jesus (John 14:6).
Timothy: “They burn in Hell for eternity” (1:36) – I am not a universalist. I believe in an eternal Hell (Matt 25:46). I’d probably choose to have a bit more tact than Timothy did when talking to someone about Hell (and make sure that I bring Jesus into it as well), but I can’t disagree with the core of what he’s saying here. If that makes me judgmental and a horrible person, fine. This is one of those things where it’s either true or it isn’t. If it’s true, then you can moan all you like and it won’t change a thing, if it’s false, then I’m horribly mislead. This is a sensitive issue, so I’m annoyed that the Baptists feel the need to put their ideas across in the way that they do.
Steve: “You love your neighbour as yourself by warning them when their sin is taking them to hell” (1:42) – Here it is, this is how Steve justifies what he and Timothy have been saying up ’til now. As with a lot of things they say, in a sense this is true, Christians do have a duty to make others aware of their sins, especially other Christians (Matt 18:15-17). The method that Jesus describes for holding people accountable in Matthew 18 is very different to the Baptists’ method and most of the verses apply specifically to fellow believers. Look at the way Jesus dealt with the woman at the well. She was an adulteress, but he did not give her a sign saying ‘SLAG WHORE’ did he? No, he spoke with her, told her the truth about salvation and guess what? She became the first evangelist besides Jesus. I think the Baptists could learn a bit from this story (John 4).
Steve: “If you fail to warn your neighbour, you hate your neighbour in your heart” (1:48) – Sometimes, we do fail because of our own sin, but sometimes we don’t realise something that they’re doing something or whatever. Does it make us hate them? No, if we fail to tell them then we can pray to God for strength (Psalm 28:7) and go by God’s timing.
Steve: “By a Bible standard, we love you all” (1:52) – I don’t know what his emotional state is, but he’s mentioned the Bible, so I can critique that. I disagree. I showed above why they are at fault in suggesting that what they’re doing is an example of loving your neighbour. Jesus was firm and fair, yes, but he was also compassion. I’m seeing a lot of judgment from these two guys and not a lot of practical compassion, also they haven’t mentioned that Jesus can save anyone from their sins. I can’t help but think about Matthew 7:3 here.
Timothy: “By a Bible standard, he [Russell] hates you, and you probably hate each other” (2:01) – I’d like to see the verse that he uses to support this ‘Bible standard’.
Steve: “It’s our duty…” Timothy: “…to warn these people to stop sinning (2:25) – Yes, it may well be, but where is the message of hope and salvation? Where is the compassion? Where is the practical evangelism? What are they actually achieving here?!
Steve: “How do you show people their transgressions without making it crystal clear what your sin is?” (2:35) – This comes just after he quotes Isaiah 58:1 completely out of context. In that verse, God is talking to Isaiah about the people of Israel who at the time were under a different covenant (read about that in my post on the Old and New Testaments). Also, that verse enforces my point about the emphasis on telling fellow believers their sins. You stand a lot more chance of bringing someone to a place where they can know God if you compassionately tell them that yes, they have sinned, but Jesus died to allow them to have a perfect relationships with God than you do if you just list their sins.
Steve: “We’re not making this stuff up, it’s right in the Bible” (2:43) – Yes, you’re quoting scripture, it’s just that a lot of it is twisted, taken out of context and warped beyond recognition.
Steve: “It’s simply God’s determination to punish the wicked in Hell for their sins, because he can, because he’s God, because he’s sovereign” (3:15) – Heavy stuff. Again, I disagree. If God wants to punish people ‘because he can’ then why bother sending Jesus to die for everyone? The Jesus that I know, did not go through a horrific death so that a couple of people could be saved, he was crucified so that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. God didn’t intend for sin to come into the world, if he did, why bother making Adam and Eve perfect? The way I understand it is this: God made everything perfect with free will so that people would be able to love him voluntarily and genuinely. Satan, who fell because of pride, corrupted Adam and Eve through the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, subverting God’s plan for humanity. The consequence of this imperfection is that we cannot dwell with the perfect God. The alternative of Heaven with God is Hell without God. As all have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard, Jesus was sent to Earth to die so that we may become perfect through his sacrifice. In a way, people punish themselves in Hell because they have excluded themselves from the everlasting love of God. I hope that makes sense. It was hard to write well.
Russell: “It’s God condemning what is objectively and indefatigably wrong” (3:32) – this was actually very well put. I agree that this is a part of the Hell doctrine. Well said, Russell.
Russell (holding up the sign): “This is to be found also in Corinthians!” (3:55) – In making this joke, he’s actually hit a VERY important point in that the Westboro Baptist have gone beyond anything that the Bible says or what Jesus did. Again, I ask them to read John 4 and take notes.
Russell: “I just feel from what I’ve read of Jesus and what I’ve had explained to me that his main message was definitely tolerance and love and truth and beauty and acceptance” (4:00) – Right, now I’m going to have to disagree with Russell a bit. Yes, all of those came into what Jesus was about. HOWEVER, I have just read all 4 gospels and I can tell you that never does Jesus say that he loves everyone. He says that those who follow him and keep his commands, he will love. What he does do, though, is show the practical, compassionate love of God to everyone who wants it in forgiving their sins, teaching them about God and healing their physical problems. He brings tolerance in that he doesn’t condemn sinners, but he encourages them to change their ways and clearly says that he is the only way to God (John 14:6). He also says that he came to bring division, not peace (Luke 12:51). Why is this? I believe that it’s because Jesus brings a message of absolute truth that you can either accept in whole or reject in whole, it’s as simple as that. There is no common ground or compromise when it comes to Jesus, therefore, he divides beliefs. He is the way, the truth and the life, you either accept that over you don’t. So, in some sense, Russell’s right, in others, he’s missed the more uncomfortable side of Jesus, the side of Jesus that sent the rich young man away in despair and had the Pharisees shifting uncomfortably.
Steve: “You don’t get to define the love of God.” Russel: “Nor do you though!” (4:15) – Very true. God, however does. There is a real truth about the love of God and if you’re confused as to what that is, rest in the shadow of the cross and you’ll find out soon enough.
Steve: “Here’s my love, that you keep my commandments” (4:30) – This isn’t exactly a verbatim quote, but I agree with the essence of it. The actual verse is this: ‘Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’ – John 14:21. I am uncomfortable with the idea of unconditional love, especially as it’s nowhere to be found in the Bible. This is a highly controversial issue and I am still looking into it, but this is certain: Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of immense love, an invitation to all to come and enjoy a perfect relationship with God.
Russell: “Have you considered that the Bible, like all religious doctrine, may be allegorical and symbolic to direct us towards one holy entity of love, as opposed to a specific, litigenous text to direct the behaviour of human beings. The Bible wasn’t literally written by a cosmic entity!” (4:40) – What a point to end on! I see what Russell is saying, and I’m sorry to pluralists, but I can’t agree. While some stuff in the Bible is allegorical (if you take the Psalms literally then you’re missing the point of poetry!), a lot of it clearly isn’t and the accounts of Jesus fall into this category. Anyone who reads the gospels will see that they were written to tell the truth about Jesus. I’ll give you one reason why Biblical Christianity cannot be used alongside other religions to point to the same entity: the objective truth of Jesus. As I said in a previous post about Postmodernism and truth, Christianity is either true or false. It cannot be part of a picture. This is because Jesus was a real person who lived on Earth around 4-30 something AD. He was crucified. If he rose from the dead, then all that he said about God is true, in fact it is the truth. If he didn’t, then he was a loony and we can ignore him and go and live whatever lives we want to. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead according to the scriptures, therefore all other religions are false. What we believe does not change the truth (or not) of the resurrection, that is why I can’t agree with Russell in any way here.
That’s it for part 1! Part 2 will cover the second half of the interview tomorrow. I apologise now for any spelling/grammar mistakes – 2500 words is a lot to check through!