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The Glitter Bomb: Would Jesus Approve?

For starters, I’ll apologize for not including my usual images and links. I poured an entire glass of red wine on my laptop last night, and so I am blogging from my iPad. Yes, I know, a true yuppie problem. So you’ll get text-only today and like it!

Now that I got that out of my system…

It’s kind of like catching dead fish in a kiddie pool to go on the offensive any more against Westboro Baptist Church, brainchild of Fred Phelps. The small but headline-grabbing group is infamous for picketing everything from military funnerals to Whitney Houston’s memorial service, generally because they make some connection between the subject of protest and the affirmation (or even indirect tolerance) of homosexuality.

In a lot of ways, they are a caricature of themselves. They’re no longer worth the ink to dissect. However, they do have more insidious agenda, whereby they verbally provoke people they’re protesting until, hopefully, someone physically assaults them. Then they turn around and sue the people, thus helping to fund their ministry.

Peace of Christ be with you, right?

The Phelps mob showed up a few years ago at our denomination’s general assembly in Kansas City, apparently because some of our churches are led by LGBT ministers. One of the protesters even called me a name, and thankfully my wife, Amy, encouraged me to walk away rather than engage.

Talk about a Better Half.

Anyway, the Disciples youth in attendance at our gathering decided to offer their own peaceful counter-protest. They stood across the street from the Westboro folks and sang songs. That was it. But it made quite an impact on me.

That, in a nutshell, is notviolent resistance at its best, demonstrated to the rest of us by our kids.

Did it change thhe hearts or minds of any of Phelps’ followers? Who knows. But it clearly affected me, or I wouldn’t be writing about it eight years later.

I’ve written before about how we’re called to nonviolent but active engagement as Christians, and how much I appreciate Walter Wink’s explication of why and how this is done, at least in some instances. But it seems that we often suffer from a deficit of the imagination when it comes to responding to injustice, oppression or violence, resorting either to responding in kind, or doing nothing at all.


There’s a movement afoot in recent months to confront those who speak publicly about intolerance, particularly in the case of our LGBT brothers and sisters. The idea is simple but brilliant. The protesters appear at a public event where they will know press will be there to document the stunt, and they shower the object of their protest with glitter. It’s completely harmless and actually pretty funny, but it’s also hard to get off.

It’s harder to be taken seriously when you’re Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty or Rick Santorum, speaking about preserving traditional marriage and moral virtues while covered in glitter.

Now, I should note hhere that glitter bombing technically can be categorized as assault. However, few if any charges have ever been filed, partly because it would be a little embarrassing to explain in court, and they would also have the onus of proving there was specific intent to harm on the part of the glitter bombers.

Glitter bombing has not been limited to social conservatives either. Gay activist blogger Dan Savage has been glitter bombed more than once for what some consider to be unfair biases against the transgender cdommunity. Though I have to think a little bit of the effect is lost, as Savage admittedly does look fabulous covered in the shiny stuff.

Personally, I would love to hear Walter Wink’s own thoughts on glitter bombing asw an effective tool of nonviolent protest. It seems to meet all of his criteria based on his understanding of Jesus’ call to action:

No one is hurt.

It grabs attention without doing damage to property or person.

It helps point out the absurdity of the issue from the perspective of the protesters. In a sense, it serves to disarm the negative power of those seeking to withhold rights from others based on their orientation.

Maybe churches should consider glitter bomb squads to confront larger issues of injustice in their communities. I mean, why limit it to issues of sexual orientation? Just ask yourself the quuestion:

Who would Jesus glitter bomb?


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