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Protesters Unite Against Westboro Baptist and Hate

Dozens of counter-protesters showed up at four Lehigh Valley churches Sunday where the controversial Westboro Baptist Church said it would protest.

Westboro Baptist Church's threat to protest at four Lehigh Valley churches on Sunday was, in the end, an idle one.

The controversial church known for its extreme views on homosexuality and protests at military funerals, was a no-show.

But the Kansas-based church rallied a diverse crowd that included a Sunday school teacher, a cigar afficionado club, motorcyclists in chaps and college students, to get up early on a frigid Sunday morning to publicly and peacefully take a stand against Westboro's message of hate and intolerance.

Westboro's potential presence here was enough to get Ryan Bitler, 22, of Bethlehem, out of bed and attend his first protest. Bitler is a Pennsylvania National Guardsman who served a year in Afghanistan as a machine gunner guarding convoys.

"We lost three men," Bitler said. And at each of the soldier's funerals, "we were afraid [Westboro Baptist] would show up," he said.

The atmosphere was convivial, as South Whitehall and Allentown police chatted with the counter-protesters, someone played a ukulele and another, dressed as a banana, stood next to a young man carrying a sign that said, "Westboro Baptist Church is bananas."

South Whitehall Police Lt. John Christman said it was a non-event. "It’s more social than anything." As for the controversial Westboro Baptists, he said, "I feel fortunate they didn’t show."

A passerby who slowed his car as he approached St. Paul's Anglican Church in Allentown, lowered his window, read the signs and said, "Oh, these are the good people" before driving away.

First Baptist Church Pastor Chuck Reed, Deacon Ross Lyon and parishioner Martha Henninger walked over to thank about 40 people who gathered outside their church on N. 19th Street in South Whitehall, the last of the four stops that included St. Paul's Anglican Church in Allentown, Asbury United Methodist Church in South Whitehall and Cathedral of St. Catharine in Allentown.

"Isn't this nice that people showed up to stand up for what's right?," Henninger said.

"Westboro is not a legitimate church," said Lyon, a retired Baptist minister. "A church that acts like that is not a church. Most of us as Christians or Americans really object to what Westboro does at military funerals. They spew hate and get more notoriety."

Ron Clever made a point to stop at St. Paul's before he teaching Sunday School at First Presbyterian in Allentown.

"I'm a very staunch First Amendment advocate but I don't think people should be mean to each other. I disagree with [Westboro's] theology."

Westboro's potential visit sparked other first-time protesters such as Kara Rosa, 21, of Forks Township, who held a sign that said, "God hates hate."

The church's views offend her, she said. "If you've ever read the Bible, God's message is love," Rosa said.

Caroline Reinik of Allentown, whose son, a Marine, served two tours in Afghanistan, rode her Harley Davidson to each of the four churches, where she was joined by a half-dozen other motorcyclists who organized a group from Stroudsburg.

An online petition to classify Westboro as a hate group and revoke its federal tax-exempt status has gained close to 74,000 signatures.

Anonymous January 21, 2013 at 12:37 PM
If I wore a shirt that said, " Number one Eagles fan" but then all I did was boo them and cheer for the other team....would you actually call me an Eagles fan just because I wore that shirt? This Uninspired Cult of Angry People are NOT a Baptist Church. I am convinced that they are purposely "wearing that shirt" to give Christianity a bad name and actually mock the Bible which clearly says to "Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you." You cannot get away from that statement and other ones like it : " Love your neighbor as yourself". Now, the Bible does say that homosexuality is wrong, just as gluttony, adultery, lusting, ect. However, what this Cult does is for their own attention and to purposely smear the name of God. Jesus is the key and he is the true friend of sinners (which we all are). He said in Matthew 7:7 " Knock and the door shall be opened to you." Anyone can knock regardless of what sins that they have committed. Sin is sin. To act like THEY have no sin is to lie. It is possible to tell the truth in love and respect.
Lanita Lum January 21, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Plain and simple Westboro followers are obviously very insecure, ego-driven and homophobic people. Their protests at any funeral are insensitive and disgusting. One of my two sons is a US Navy Sailor. My sons were once children. If anyone ever used their own "ideology" or "cause" to gain publicity at a tragic or celebratory event for either of my children, youth or adult, I'd likely come at them like a raging mother bear! I'd also likely find myself in handcuffs because they'd never protest or preach their bigotry mentalities again. As a previous editorial journalist, I've already been condemned to hell under the guise of their perceptions (Baptist), as well as of anyone who comments on their narrow-minded beliefs, homophobic or even expecting women to cower to their master/husbands. I'm sure I'm already on their radar to protest my funeral! I'd be proud if they showed. My spirit & legacy would be even more justified if they hated me.
Carl W January 22, 2013 at 02:33 AM
Westboro's are just scared, and insecure. Maybe say some prayers, & invite a few to have a hot dog. Help get their minds at ease, as good Christians. -- Just a thought !
Jay Bell January 22, 2013 at 06:35 AM
The Westboro Baptist Church is just out for publicity and money. They don't care anything about God, per se. They are political prostitutes, plain and simple. www.firebrandcental.com

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