EDITOR'S NOTE: In this first-person, Southwestern Seminary professor Thomas White argues that Westboro Baptist Church is neither "Baptist" nor a "church."
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--If I told you that I was a bird, you might have your doubts. After all, I don't look anything like a bird. I can't fly. I don't have wings. In fact, I have very little resemblance to a bird unless you want to count my bird legs as evidence.
Well, as a third generation Southern Baptist preacher and a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where I teach about the church, I think know what makes a Baptist church. According to the Bible, a church is a gathering, but a gathering with a purpose ... an "ecclesia." This Greek word is a compound word from "ek" and "kaleo" meaning the "called" "out" ones. The church is made up of those called out for God's purposes. There are other assemblies in the New Testament. People called out and gathered for political reasons which may form assemblies but not churches. You see, a church has a special mission, which is the mission of Christ. Christ came to offer love and hope, and saving grace to those who were hopeless, unloved and sinners.
So it really upsets me when a group calls themselves a Baptist church and then conducts themselves disgracefully. As a member of a Baptist church, I want to go on record as saying that the group calling itself "Westboro" is neither Baptist nor a church. They are not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention or any other denomination. They do not follow the New Testament or the commands of Christ. They act nothing like a church should act and they do not demonstrate the characteristics of a true church. They should do everyone a favor and change their name to reflect reality. They appear to me as nothing more than a hate group with an extreme agenda. God will set things right on judgment day, and I would not want to be in their shoes.
So why do they call themselves a Baptist church? Well, of course I cannot know for sure, but I suspect that it is because the devil would love for the public to think all Baptist churches act like Westboro. In reality, nothing could be further from truth. So when you hear about the group at Westboro that spews hatred across the land, recognize them for what they are -- not what they call themselves. And please don't mistake them for a Baptist church no matter what the sign may say.
Thomas White is vice president for student services and communications and associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at his blog, http://thomaswhite.wordpress.com. To read earlier Baptist Press stories about Westboro, visit http://bpnews.net/BPCollectionNews.asp?ID=169