"We Need Something Different": Understanding Westboro Baptist Church’s Ministry of Rebuke through Empathic Research Methods

This article examines responses to the controversial picketing and media-savvy provocations of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Since WBC’s conduct is widely perceived as cruel, people often respond with anger and animosity, which reinforce WBC’s self-representation as a persecuted church. Convers...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Journal of religious ethics
Main Author: Gray, Hillel ca. 20./21. Jh.
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: Wiley-Blackwell [2020]
[publisher not identified]
In: Journal of religious ethics
Year: 2020, Volume: 48, Issue: 2, Pages: 247-277
Standardized Subjects / Keyword chains:B Westboro Baptist Church / Provocation / Interview / Listening / Empathy / Moral judgment / Rejection of
Further subjects:B Westboro Baptist Church
B Listening
B comparative religious ethics
B Empathy
Online Access: Volltext (Verlag)
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Summary:This article examines responses to the controversial picketing and media-savvy provocations of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Since WBC’s conduct is widely perceived as cruel, people often respond with anger and animosity, which reinforce WBC’s self-representation as a persecuted church. Conversely, I have engaged Westboro Baptists in interviews that function as "bridging conversations." This methodology centers on critical-empathic listening, comparative religious ethics, and a disciplined restraint from expressing moral judgment. I argue that this response is supported by the data and understandings obtained, metapragmatic commentary, my rapport with churchgoers, and evidence of their empathy. In conclusion, I gauge the methodology’s risks and consider its expansion, for example, with undergraduates who have joined our conversations. In an era of polarized discourse, nonjudgmental listening is a counter-intuitive response that troubles entrenched binaries, including the public fashioning of WBC as a dehumanized enemy.
ISSN:1467-9795
Contains:Enthalten in: Journal of religious ethics
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1111/jore.12308