It seems like we’ve seen a rise lately in Christian preachers who think it’s their job to annoy the hell out of everyone they come in contact with — literally and metaphorically. There was a time when Westboro Baptist Church was alone in provocative hate speech disguised as the Love of God, but now it’s expanded to Christians yelling in Target stores, outside public schools, and on college campuses.
Every time I see videos of them preaching — and they always take video, because their words can reach a larger audience that way — it makes my blood boil. How dare they say that women, LGBT people, atheists, and everyone else who doesn’t fit their narrow interpretation of God’s rules are hellbound and horrible?
It’s so tempting to yell back at them. You want to get right in their face. Maybe you want to shout counter-apologetics at them.
Maybe you really want to punch them.
None of it’s a good idea. They want attention, and when you snap, they feel like they’ve planted a seed of Christ in your mind that will surely grow in the future.
That brings me to Arizona preacher Brother Dean Saxton. Standing outside Apollo High School earlier this month, he said whatever he could to provoke the students.
He’s known for denouncing homosexuality and holding signs telling woman they deserve rape for not being true Christians.
Brother Dean posted YouTube video of his demonstration at Apollo High School earlier this month. In the video he admits he is often confronted and yelled at. He uses a megaphone to tell students they’re going to hell.
But in video of his demonstration, things escalated quickly. At the end of the video below, while an adult is trying to talk sense into him, Saxton was assaulted by a student with a baseball bat:
The attacker, 19-year-old Tabitha Brubaker, was later arrested for felony assault and marijuana possession.
I’ve seen comment threads in which people are joking about this, saying that it was a fair response to hate speech, or that in a legitimate assault the male body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” or that she didn’t hit him hard enough since he was still walking afterwards.
Some are facetiously calling for a fundraiser to raise her bail money.
All of these responses are despicable.
I’m not condoning Saxton’s words or actions. However, I’m saying the downside of free speech is that even hate speech is protected. People unfortunately have a right to be assholes. (See: Trump, Donald.)
If a pro-choice individual, protesting at an anti-abortion rally, was attacked like this, we’d be calling for arrests no matter what the individual was saying.
If atheists say that Noah’s Ark is a story about genocide when Ken Ham‘s Ark Encounter theme park opens up in July, and one of them gets assaulted by a Creationist, no one would be saying, “Well, the atheist started it.”
And in this case, you don’t have to support what Saxton was doing to know this isn’t the sort of behavior we want to see in response. I don’t know what Brubaker’s motive was — whether she was an atheist, or an embarrassed Christian, or something else — but nothing anyone says should lead to violence in response.
The best response to hate speech is more speech.
Now, instead of this being a story about a crazy preacher who said outrageous things outside a high school, the story is about a Christian who got assaulted by someone who couldn’t handle what he was saying. It’s a martyr story served up on a silver platter.
A Christian said women deserve to be raped, and I feel bad for him.
Don’t give these people the upper hand. Ever.
(Edit: Be sure to check out Terry’s post on this subject.)