Preying on Victims: Radical Christianity and Exploitation of Tragedy in the Name of God By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

It is our moral responsibility, whether we identify as Christians or not, to pray for not prey on the victims of tragedies.

Over the last month, dare I say years, society has witnessed or been subjected to an all out war from radical Christians across America deploying the wrath of God and reveling in the tragedy of others to perpetuate their apocalyptic message of rhetoric and terror.   As I hear the news over the last few months, an old Billy Joel song starts to play in my head “We didn’t start the fire.”  Whether we started the fire or not, we should not feed the flames of hatred but figure out a way to extinguish it.

Here is a brief synopsis of current events that reflect this hatred and radicalism perpetuated in the name of God – examples of Christianity terrorizing or preying on victims through their actions.

The Westboro Southern Baptist Church: Preying on Victims at Funerals and Thanking God for their Tragic Deaths

Original Picture found at

Their web address says it all:  This group, which one cannot call Christian but rather “hate-mongers,” threatened to burn the Qur’an, was banned from Facebook for spreading hatred against homosexuals, and recently had the audacity to picket funerals of Americans killed in natural disasters, most recently, a teen-age shooting victim, Daniel Parmertor (age 16), from Chardon, Ohio.  Thankfully, volunteers across Ohio and a local group of bikers formed a human barricade to keep these people away from the funeral and grieving family and community.

This group preys on tragedy.  They “praise God for sending a shooter to a High School in Ohio.”  They “praise God for killing a coast guard member.’  They praise God for killing UK Singer Davy Jones.”  They also picketed the funerals of the Arizona shooting victims where Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six others, including federal Judge John M. Roll was killed stating, “God sent the shooter to shoot you!  And He’s sitting in Heaven laughing at you!”  The article goes on into quite graphic detail, which you can read for yourself  but concludes with the statement “Thank God for his Righteous Judgments!”  This group picketed over 47,500 funerals and events to date. One has to wonder what bible they are reading and what God they are praying to.

Pat Robertson, Glen Beck, John Hagee, and Jerry Falwell: Praying and standing against homosexuals would stop God’s wrath (natural disasters) from occurring – America – you have done this to yourself.

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Pat Robertson is notorious for his outspoken apocalyptic rhetoric.  This was seen during the 9/11 (God’s response to the ACLU and abortions), hurricanes in New Orleans (God’s response to abortions), Earthquakes in Haiti (because they made a pact with the devil – and it was a blessing in disguise), Ariel Sharon’s stroke  (divine retribution for pulling out of Gaza), and most recently the tornadoes that hit the Midwest in the United States last week (which could have been stopped if people prayed enough).  Agreeing with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on “pagans,” “abortionists,” “feminists,” and “homosexuals” as well as the ACLU.  Even Glenn Beck jumped on the bandwagon after the Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake: “Whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent and that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well.’ Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”   John Haggee stated that Hurricane Katrina was the “judgment of God” for the sins that took place on its streets.

These words or messages are supposed to provoke repentance and change behavior in what is being portrayed as pre-apocalyptic events or warning signs from God. If we do not comply with God’s teachings in the Bible, the end of the world will come swiftly.  What is incomprehensible to me is conveying that God willed these tragedies, wanted people to die just to teach us a lesson.  These evangelists are simply bullies, taking advantage of victims and tragedy.

Father Marcel Guarnizo and the Denial of Communion to a Lesbian at Her Mother’s Funeral

Original image found at

Original image from at

Imagine the loss of your mother and going to her funeral.  Imagine your mother’s funeral turning into a political protest.  A protest that has a Catholic Priest denying communion in front of a grieving congregation to the daughter, Barbara Johnson, woman standing first in line because she was a lesbian; something the priest learned of right before the service.  As she stood in line “he put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a women, and in the eyes of the church, that is sin.”  To compound matters, when Johnson gave her eulogy, the priest left the altar and refused to attend the burial of her mother.  He dishonored her mother, a devout and life-long Catholic, because he did not agree with the daughter’s chosen lifestyle.

Lay representatives of the Church showed compassion to the grieving daughter, gave her communion,  according to John Shore, lovingly.  Johnson was also consoled by Catholics who “surrounded and hugged” her to make a point that “Fr. Marcel in no way represent the love of the Church.”  Rules, threats, care, and defending  what is perceived to be the Catholic faith is now a replacement for pastoring, shepherding, or even caring for the congregation.  Through this stance,  the very actions of many (not all) ordained in the Catholic Church, through their fire and brimstone approach,  becomes a source of abuse in a different way.  Lack of pastoral support, care, and compassion and the demands of compliance instills a psychological abuse in people that can be unrecoverable.

Sluts, Prostitutes, Femi-Nazi’s,” and Rush Limbaugh

Original photo by Micah Walter, Rueters. Original image found at

Original photo by Micah Walter, Rueters. Original image from

What can be said that has not already been said about Rush Limbaugh’s rants against a Georgetown law student?  NOW’s website summarizes what occurred briefly; “Limbaugh’s targeting of Sandra Fluke was way out of line, even for him. Limbaugh is free to disagree all he wants with Fluke — a Georgetown Law student who testified before a congressional committee in support of health care coverage for birth control — but calling her a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ on air is unacceptable. After sparking outrage, Limbaugh took to the airwaves again yesterday to suggest that if Fluke wants contraception to be fully covered, she should post videos of herself having sex online so Limbaugh and others can watch.”  Limbaugh’s comments were inappropriate and spewed hatred. Others jumped on the bandwagon including Bill O’Reilly and Patricia Heaton.

Limbaugh attempted to apologize only after sponsors and a few channels dropped his show.  Many are still calling for a boycott of sponsors and the parent company that carries his show.  He defended his actions stating his comments were made “in the attempt to be humorous.” A humor that is repulsive, offensive, diminishes the medical value of birth control pills, and incites as well as overlooks violence that is often launched on women by their male counterparts through sabatoge and control – a marking of their territory, a dangerous and abusive display of power and control. Moreover, what message is Limbaugh sending, especially to teen-agers or young adult women that have to take birth control for medical purposes? What is he saying about a woman’s right to choose?  The issues of birth control have been quietly accepted and a seemingly settled issue – until this year.

The Catholic Church, GOP, and Contraception

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Mary Hunt states, “religious liberty language is attractive, especially in an election year.”  Certainly, the conservative GOP bandwagon has taken off over this issue.  The rhetoric over contraception is fueling violence and controversy by the Catholic Church.  My prior post addresses the Bishop’s stance at length.  Walker Nickless, the Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, issued a warning  – the contraception mandate in healthcare reform is literally a plot by the Devil that required ““violent opposition.”

Between House Speaker John Boehner and Rick Santorum, contraception covered under Obama’s healthcare plan has become a party platform that is nothing more than conjecture and a skewed battle cry for religious freedom. In reality, what their stance does is taking away our religious freedom.  Santorum, on ABC’s This Week states, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.  The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.” Constitutionally this is problematic on many levels.

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For me, in 2012, it is incomprehensible that we are fighting over women’s rights in today’s world (especially in the United States).  According to Gloria Steinhem, who fought for women’s rights over the last forty years, “We had an important and profound front lash and then you inevitably have a backlash.”  It is safe to say we are standing in that backlash – one that is severe, especially in the fundamentalist sects and Roman Catholic Church. So many tragedies and abuses have occurred and continue to occur in the name of Christianity.  These extremists do not perpetuate the gospel message, but spew violence and hatred.  In my own naïveté, I never imaged a day where Catholics and Fundamental Evangelists would agree and work towards a common interest.  We need come together as community to be a beacon of hope in the face of tragedy  instead of a raging fire of hate burning out of control.

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality.  She also has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Professor at Ursuline College.  Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at .


Categories: Activism, Catholic Church, Christianity, Community, Ethics, Evangelicalism, Feminism, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Human Rights, Jesus, LGBTQ, Military, Power relations, Prayer, Social Justice, Vatican, Violence Against Women, Women and Community

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15 replies

  1. All the more need for feminist theology of all kinds! Every person and group you cite imagines God’s power as power over and domination and their own puny human power as power that makes them dominant over others. This is why feminist theology and feminism are about redefining power as power with, power of being, power within, but never power over. All of these get short shrift from the “Christians” you mention. Siiigggghhhh…..


  2. Excellent essay! Have any of these so-called Christians ever heard of the Sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. There is zero blessedness in the Westboro Baptists, Pat Robertson and his cronies, or Rush Limbaugh. I’m sure there must be some men in the Catholic and GOP hierarchies who know was the Sermon on the Mount is, but the ones making all the noise these days sure aren’t showing it. Have they never heard of the Golden Rule? They seem to have totally misunderstood the true message of their teacher.


    • Thank you Barbara! These stories are heart-breaking and predatory. I think it is important that they be discussed and acknowledged and recognize these abuses for what they are. I think it is so important to show compassion and be pastoral. Christians wanting to imitate Christ – I would think that would be the only correct response. With that said, this is what happens when we have a literalistic interpretation of the Bible.


  3. Hey it’s about power. The abuse of power, and the appropriation of the life of christ….


  4. It is are moral responsibility to pray, but also to have all the facts when one blogs to remove any bias feelings.
    In regards to the Priest, you have it all wrong. It is Miss Johnson that is moving her agenda forward.



  5. Paul,

    I have to respectfully disagree with you. With regard to the priest, I cannot imagine a grieving daughter using her mother’s funeral to make such a statement. The loss of a parent is a terrible thing. Often, the priest does not really even know the family. However canonically, she had every right to receive the sacrament of communion if she was Catholic, and I believe she was. There are many sins that people have and the priest is aware of and communion is not withheld. It is potentially withheld when it is obvious that the person is not Catholic. What compounds this issue is disrespecting the decedent and the remaining congregation by leaving during the eulogy (where many non-catholics or imperfect people often speak at the end of the liturgy) and the fact that he did not show up at the burial site. I cannot see how Ms. Johnson used this to promote an agenda within the church. In fact this was a perfect opportunity for the priest to reach out to someone alienated from the Church and being pastoral. That seems to be missing so often in today’s church and the reason why so many are leaving.

    As for your comments about blogging and being biased. I am presenting facts as I research them. As a writer I am well within my right to express my feelings on this. The news media does this, newspapers do it, all of which are “professional” reporters that should not have biases. This is a blog meant to facilitate conversation and build community. All of us have conveyed our opinion in one way or another and blogs are an appropriate venue for this.


  6. Great post Michelle. I hadn’t heard the story of Barbara Johnson but I’m sure she’s not the only one for something like this to happen to. It’s so sad when people use faith for their own agenda but it’s refreshing when I meet people who follow the compassionate teachings of their religion.


    • Keri,

      You are absolutely correct. I cannot tell you the amount of discussions I have had with young seminarians and priests about this fire and brimstone approach to people vs. pastoral. I am not sure if is this sense “elevation” that some get when going through the process. I am not sure if it is because they are stretched and do not have the time to be pastoral. I am not sure if they feel responsible for people’s souls and thus use harsh actions or strict (what they think to be) party line that alienates people. OR if they are just not pastoral which brings us the issue of ordination (ordaining on biology instead of gifts they possess).

      I only hope that the compassion that the lay people showed Ms. Johnson would be emulated at the upper levels of the hierarchy. The one thing I will say is that I cannot categorically label all priests in the Catholic Church to act like this (there are some very good ones) but what I have witnessed seems to indicate this lack of pastoral ability seems to be the norm rather than the exception.


  7. So many shocking stories here. Thanks for sharing them, Michele! They make depressing – but fascinating – reading…


  8. Michelle,
    You make excellent points but I think its worth discussing that although we may be presenting sound arguments on this blog, it is the hate-filled rhetoric and mad individuals that get national attention. Regardless of purpose, news outlets love stories that promote a type of “the crazier, the better” mentality. It just shows that news sources are seeking ratings rather than honest reporting. We can see this with Fox but then we can also see it with MSNBC. One promotes “crazy liberals” fighting for women’s rights, the other shows a man white man spouting nonsense and calling individuals sluts!

    Where do we go for anything anymore is my question?


    • John,

      You are correct and although you point to the newsmedia as biased source (they are), when you witness what the Westboro church did in Chardon, when you witness the rants by televangelists on the television, or you hear these rants, I am not sure how that individual perception and testimony can be biased. Supporting these observations through the newsmedia is a means of supporting my arguments. There are so many examples that I have personally witnessed as well as so many others that perpetuate hate in the name of Christianity. I have also seen the damning results launched on Catholics by priests who are more worried about instilling their interpretation of church teaching on individuals.

      So I guess the answer to your question – where do we go? Our own experience and observations would be my answer.


  9. It amazes me that in 2012, radical Christian groups still manage to justify the tragedies and hatred of others in the name of God and the Christian faith. In doing so as you mentioned the church has become the “source of abuse” yet, this abuse is so vast and widespread that it seems impossible to alleviate the survivors and victims of its abuse. The course of action taken by these radical Christian groups such as the Westboro Southern Baptist Church perpetuates the negative conations often associated with identifying as Christian. Yet, these types of groups hurt not only marginalized people such as those within the queer community or supports of women’s reproductive justice, but other Christian who are given a “bad name” as a result of these radical groups. Justifying natural disasters and terrible atrocities in the name of God leads me to consider the link between capitalism and conversion strategies often used by Christian organizations. In Naomi Kline’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, the idea is that those who hold the power and wealth of our society benefit from things like natural disasters and other tragedies like the Ohio shooting. They exploit grief and fear as a way of gaining power, money, and status. I can see similarities in this ideology with the radical Christian groups who use tragedies as a way of gaining power and more support for their churches and organizations. People maybe fearful that the beliefs and arguments of these radical people and organizations are true and therefore become supporters in order to avoid being deemed a “sinner”. All of the people and organizations you mentioned in this article use fear as a tactic of control and conversion, which is common within many religion; fear that you or your loved ones won’t make it to heaven, fear of judgment, fear of being a sinner, and fear that if a tragedy happens in your life that it is because of something you did. Great article thank you for addressing some of the issues that affect all of us on some level, everyone grieves, but none of us deserve to have our grief challenged or exploited by others regardless of their political or religious beliefs.


  10. This is a very interesting post, it is an unbelievable thing that is happening in today’s day and age. A quote from Mary Daly comes to mind, it states “It will be understood that the most loving thing one can do for the oppressor is to fight the oppressive situation that destroys both the oppressor and the oppressed.” Helping find a way to stop these things from happening will stop these people from speaking nonsense. Destroying the oppressive message, gets rid of both the oppressors (those preaching) and the oppressed (those being belittled) because once that is done with there would be no oppressor to oppress.


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