Thursday, October 05, 2006

The True Christians Are in Pennsylvania, not Kansas

Yesterday, the Christian hate group known as Westboro Baptist Church announced its plans to picket the funerals of the five Amish girls who were murdered earlier this week -- because, they say, the victims of the school shooting, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, are part of God's punishment on the state of Pennsylvania, because Pennsylvania's governor, Ed Rendell, committed "blasphemy" against WBC.

This same hate group picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepherd, the gay college student who was savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die in the middle of a Wyoming winter. More recently, WBC gained notoriety for picketing funerals of American soldiers who had died in Iraq.

There was a flurry of blog posts yesterday (mine included), about how disgusting and repulsive this group is, and how un-Christian their behavior. Today, another article was published, this time about the way the Amish community has chosen to conduct the funerals of the girls who were killed. I have quoted a large portion of the article for context; but my reason for writing this post is in the last two paragraphs, which I have highlighted:

It began with a tiny horse-drawn hearse no more than a few feet long, its small, darkened windows almost entirely obscuring the simple pine coffin lying within.

Inside lay Naomi Rose Ebersol, 7, her eyes closed, a white cap atop her head, her body covered by a white dress, her child's feet in white socks. All Amish women are buried in white: it symbolises the purity of heaven.

Behind her 37 horse-drawn buggies joined the funeral procession, clip-clopping the mile down Mine Road from Naomi's house -- and past the home of Charles Roberts, the gunman who killed her -- to Georgetown Amish Cemetery, where she was buried at noon amid 100 family and friends.

The men and women, wearing wide-brimmed, black hats and black bonnets, took one last look at Naomi, filing past the open coffin that has sat inside the Ebersol home for the past two days while her mother dressed her and her family touched her. Scores of cousins filled the home, bringing food and gazing at the little girl. Tears were shed and stories told.

Then the coffin lid was sealed and the box lowered into its grave. The congregation picked up shovels to cover her with earth.

Like all the dead in this Amish cemetery, an anonymous plot of land without a building, she will receive a small, simple headstone. It was a solemn occasion, but, for the Amish, a profound one. Funerals are their most important religious event, for they believe they are sending a loved one into the arms of God.

Two more melancholy processions were to pass through the tiny Amish village of Nickel Mines today: one for Mary Liz Miller, 8, and her 7-year-old sister, Lena; and another for Marian Fisher, 13, three of the five girls shot at point-blank range in their one-room schoolhouse on Monday by Roberts, who then killed himself.

Tomorrow morning, the Amish will bury the last of their dead, Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12.

Before each girl was buried, services were held in their homes, for the Amish do not have churches. Their open coffins were the centrepiece. Before dawn, Amish from the entire area arrived by buggy or on foot to attend each service. Prayers were said in English and German. Preachers gave sermons and hymns were sung.

Even as they prepared for the first mass funeral in Nickel Mines's 260-year history, the Amish were also having to come to terms with the revelation that the ten girls knew they were to be shot well before Roberts opened fire.

One of the girls he shot, a 12-year-old in hospital with shoulder wounds, began talking today. She told her family that Roberts told them what he was about to do as he tied them up beneath the blackboard. She said none begged for mercy.

The oldest girl, a 13-year-old, said to him: "Shoot me and leave the others alone." He shot them all.

A sixth girl was also on the verge of death tonight. Her parents were planning to take her off her life support machine and bring her home to die.

Three remain critical but two are stable. "He missed the heads on a few of them," Rita Rhoads, a midwife who delivered some of the girls and has visited the families, told The Times.

The Amish belief in forgiveness is so genuine that the wife of Roberts, Marie, was invited to the funerals. She did not attend but will meet the families next week.

Ruben Fisher, an Amish bishop whose granddaughter, Marian, was killed, visited Roberts's wife on Monday night, just hours after the shootings. He had spent the afternoon looking at Marian, her wounds still fresh. He told Mrs Roberts that the Amish had forgiven already.

This moved me deeply. This religious community is an inspiration to me, and should be an inspiration to us all. Unlike the pseudo-Christians led by Fred Phelps, and unlike -- sad to say -- some others who turn their own anti-Phelps posts into metaphors for being "a major embarrassment to the Christian faith," the Amish of Lancaster County, PA, are living their Christian beliefs in as pure and consistent a way as they can -- and far better than most people would find humanly possible.

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