While driving to work this morning, I heard members of the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing at the funeral of Gloria Koch Leonidas, a Bellevue woman who was killed last Wednesday during Ian Stawicki’s shooting rampage in downtown Seattle.
It’s unusual for church members to venture so far north to spread their message of hatred and intolerance. If I hadn’t lived in Texas, I may not have been aware of the Westboro Church and their determination to not only disrupt, but exacerbate the grief of mourners by picketing at memorial services and espousing everything from “god hates gays,” to “Jews killed Jesus,” and “Obama is the beast.”
I saw their impact on a sticky June afternoon. After ordering a cake for Rich’s and my anniversary, I was heading back to the Dell West Parmer campus. There were several cemeteries along the way, and as I approached one, I saw a long line of cars with police escorts. I noticed several cars pulling over and I did the same.
I remembered a funeral was being held that day for a young man who’d been killed in Iraq. It was early in the war when every death was significant, and not a regular occurrence. People still believed we’d be in-and-out of the country within months, Saddam Hussein brought to justice, ally troops hailed as heroes, a new president elected, and the country rebuilt and restored as a democracy.
With the air conditioning blasting, I watched as the motorcade drove by, half dozen motorcycle officers, followed by the hearse, several town cars, a long line of cars… and then a contingent of noisy motorcyclists, wearing black leather jackets, embroidered with the name of their groups. Dozens and dozens of cyclists. Clean-shaven and bearded men. Some with helmets and some with bandanas on their heads. Mixed in with the large, acoustically distinct Harley Davidsons were small bikes, some with women on them.
My first thought was of sadness. Sadness for the family that had to be burdened with knowing the Westboro Baptist Church was planning to show up at their son’s funeral. They suffered from the heartbreak of losing a child who was only a few years out of high school.
I was saddened the motorcyclists had to gather, perhaps missing work or neglecting obligations, to selflessly rev up their motorcycles’ engines to drown out the rants of the picketers.
And then I was angry.
A funeral should be a private affair. It’s a time to reflect on someone’s life, and based on one’s beliefs or relationship to the deceased, silently mourn, turn to others for support, or perhaps toast to a life well-lived.
The funeral procession I observed had swelled in size, not because people knew the young soldier, but to create a distraction, a noise barrier between the egotists from a church thousands of miles away who felt the need to force their misguided beliefs on others, the conviction “military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.”
As I watched the last motorcycle pass, I sat for a few minutes, the sun glaring through the window, and tried to make sense of the lunacy. But there was none.
As my days in Texas passed, I saw several motorcades for fallen soldiers, usually consisting of a brigade of motorcyclists, a growing necessity for high profile military funerals.
And now, the ugliness of the Westboro Church is coming to Seattle. Tomorrow, they will arrive, ready to spew their hatred, at the funeral for a mother of two. It simply doesn’t make sense.