(My colleague Rick beat me to the punch with respect to this story, but since I had already drafted most of it, I decided to post it anyway.)
Earlier today, Liberty Pundits reported that in April 2010, members from Dove World Outreach Center (the “Koran-burning” church) joined members from the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, who had traveled to Gainsville, Florida in order to protest several “liberal” churches in the area. The page at the Dove website that describes the joint protest is inaccessible, but excerpts posted at Liberty Pundits seem to indicate that the joint protest was not pre-planned. In other words, Westboro did not travel to Gainsville specifically to protest along side of Dove; instead, Dove seized the opportunity to join Westboro in a common cause — evangelizing “liberal” churches that, in their view, are preaching a false gospel. As far as can be determined from the Dove website excerpts, there is no ongoing relationship with Westboro. In fact, the Dove website states:
We do not agree with all of Westboro’s methods, but we admire their determination to find radical ways to preach the truth of the Bible, as we do. Most churches and Pastors in America try to stand on neutral ground. They are lost, weak and sick and need to repent.
The Dove Facebook page contains this summarization of the protest:
People who did not know each other with nothing in common but the word of God marching in unity and putting the kingdom first, ahead of everything else! What can be more important than saving people from hell? We must stand on the truth, the word of God instead on finding reasons why we cannot be in unity! Yes we can! We can obey God and save people from going to hell!
Although the Dove and Westboro congregations come from very different theological perspectives (charismatic, and independent fundamentalist or “primitive” Baptist, respectively) they seem to have some fundamentalist Christian beliefs in common, namely that they are part of the last remnant of believers who are completely true to their faith. Everyone else has either fallen into apostasy through the teaching of false doctrines, or is hopelessly lost because of belief in false religions. They also believe that as members of the True Remnant, they are called to “shake up” other “lukewarm” believers, and to radically evangelize those they see as “the enemy”, in an effort to open their eyes to their sins.
To this end, something from Westboro seems to have rubbed off on the Dove congregation, because their Facebook page lists three other protests undertaken by the church since their joint effort with Westboro: a local porn shop, the Islamic Center at the University of Florida, and a protest at City Hall opposing Gainsville’s first openly gay mayor. The fact that such protests invariably spark considerable opposition is actually seen by Christian fundamentalists as an affirmation of what they are doing, as indicated by Christ himself in Mark 13:13 and its parallel in Matthew 10, All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Politics and religion often make strange bedfellows, and I think this is probably the extent of the relationship between Westboro and Dove. Although Dove seems to have been inspired by Westboro’s zeal for protests, I would be cautious about using the word “link” to describe the intersection of these two congregations, because such a word implies some kind of long-term or deliberate collusion between two parties. That doesn’t seem to be the case with respect to these two congregations, unless you count their shared commitment to independent Christian fundamentalism.
ADDED: The Smoking Gun has published what they claim is a copy of the rulebook for Dove World Outreach Academy, a private youth boarding school designed to train students to become “Five Fold Ministers.” Among other things, the rulebook confines students to a strict healthy diet, prohibits dating, and excludes all contact with family members (funerals and weddings are no exception). According to CBS News, the school had six students in 2009. Other information available online seems to indicate that the current pastors, Terry and Sylvia Jones, have taken the church down a very radical path and in recent years many of the church’s founding members and staff have left.
In response to the comments, I do not wish to defend Dove in any way. It is apparent beyond any need for explanation that Terry Jones is a kook who (like the Phelps family at Westboro Baptist) practices a dangerous, even cult-like, brand of ultra-fundamentalism. Churches like Dove and Westboro claim to be Bible-centered (for example, Dove’s rules prohibiting students from contact with their families can be linked to a very literal reading of Luke 9:61-62) but virtually no one outside of the small subset of extreme fundamentalist Christianity would condone much of anything these churches believe or practice.