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Westboro Church protest meets students’ mocking

Over 100 students waved signs, bearing such slogans as “God <3’s internet porn” and “God hates the new Facebook."

Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church walks with other members of her family and church to picket at the corner of East 58th Street and University Avenue.
Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
As part of a counter protest to the Westboro Baptist Church in 2009 that drew hundreds of people, brothers of Alpha Delta Phi danced to pop music.
Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church, left, and her son Noah, right, walk back to their car after protesting with other members of her family on the University of Chicago campus.
Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Shirley Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church protests with other members of her family and church at the corner of East 58th Street and University Avenue.
Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Members of Westboro Baptist Curch protest at the corner of East 58th Street and University Avenue.
Photo: Camille van Horne/The Chicago Maroon
Members of Westboro Baptist Church (right) protest in front of the Theological Seminary on Monday. University students gather for a counter-protest on the opposite sidewalk.
Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Participants in a counter protest against Westboro's picket watch, sing and shout during the Church's time on the quads. The counter protest, organized by multiple groups on campus, drew hundreds of people. .

Over 100 students gathered on South University Avenue and in Hutchinson Courtyard Monday to demonstrate against six protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) advocating against the University of Chicago, the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), and the University of Chicago Law School’s employment of Barack Obama.  

The WBC protesters arrived at the CTS at noon. Carrying signs reading “God hates the world” and “Bloody Obama,” they stood on the corner of East 58th Street and South University Avenue for half an hour. They allowed people to photograph them and held up their signs, smiling. At one point, Shirley Phelps-Roper, WBC’s spokeswoman, sang a joyful rendition of “God Hates America.”  

They were accompanied down the street by a group of students mocking the WBC’s message. The students held a sign reading “Figs Doom Nations” and planted themselves across the street from the WBC, drawing from a Biblical passage in which Jesus disparages a fig tree. “If you need scanty biblical evidence for anything, we’ve got it,” said fourth-year Carmel Levy as he handed out flyers containing biblical citations that read: “Jesus rebuked the fig as an evil abomination” and “God Promises Terrible Vengeance Upon Any Fig-Loving Nation.”  

“We just wanted the world to know that God’s vengeance doesn’t just fall on the gay, but also on the fruit,” said fourth-year Max Shron.  

On the eastern side of the quad, students who had been waiting for the group waved signs mocking the WBC’s trademark “God Hates Fags” poster. The signs bore slogans such as “God <3’s internet porn,” “God hates the new Facebook,” and “God hates dial-up.” 

Across the street, the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity brothers lined their porch in bathrobes, awaiting the arrival of the protesters. When they appeared, the brothers stripped off their robes and began dancing to Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “I’m Coming Out,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” The “Tiny Dancer” lyrics “Jesus freaks/out in the streets” elicited a loud cheer from the crowd on the other side of the street. 

In general, the atmosphere was festive. Students laughed, joked, took pictures, and danced to Alpha Delt’s music. 

“When we got down to the Seminary Co-Op and Alpha Delt was dancing around in their underwear, me and Rabbi Ruthie [Gelfarb] and this priest started dancing and we got like 30 people to come over and dance in front,” said third-year Iah Pillsbury. “It was like a celebration. It was really cool to see so many people come out in support of diversity and doing whatever we want and gay people…and religious freedom.” 

The party atmosphere continued in Hutchinson Courtyard, where Queers and Associates, as well as other students, had organized a party in celebration of diversity. Counter-protest leaders encouraged students to gather at Hutch, containing the breadth of the counter-protest in order to discourage WBC media attention.  

 ”There were a lot of various ideas about how to respond,” said third-year Dave Klein. “There had to be a response because a lot of people were mobilizing around the issue. We came up with this idea of having a party, to turn it into something beautiful…a celebration of diversity.” 

“We took the opportunity…to show the University and beyond that we’re proud of who we are,” said first-year Lexie Tabachnick, who also helped coordinate the party.  

The party included a s’mores roasting station, hot chocolate, a dance performance by Rhythmic Bodies in Motion, and musical performances by individual students and the a capella group Men in Drag. There were also petitions to be signed in support of overturning Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative making gay marriage unconstitutional, which was passed in November and is now being debated in the California Supreme Court. 

Large banners with slogans such as “Many Identities, One Community” were available for students to sign. Klein said the banners were there so that people could express “more positive messages about who we are. We are a diverse campus and we love us.” 

The party also raised over $500 for the Broadway Youth Center, which provides health services for the LGBTQ community.  

Students from the CTS also came to protest the WBC with signs reading “Chicago Theological Seminary: Question, Teach, Transform.”  

Alice Hunt, president of CTS, echoed her student’s sentiments. “I think it’s sad, this kind of expression of anger and hostility,” said CTS President Alice Hunt. “I’m not sure it has a viable place in our society, so I’m sad that it’s happening.”  

She added that while CTS didn’t plan any response, she was enthused about students’ reactions. “We’re so pleased and overjoyed by the good-spirited energy with which they were living their lives today,” she said.  

WBC protesters moved to the Midway to protest the Law School at around 1:00 p.m. Far from being fazed by what they had encountered in the quads, they were delighted. “I truly and dearly love it,” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, the group’s spokeswoman. “It is so awesome when you juxtapose this little group of servants of God with this restless mob of humanity.”  

She added: “These people think that they have the power, this arrogant nation, to change God. The little girly boys up there with their clothes half off gyrating around—they might as well flip off their god.”  

Deputy Dean of Students for Student Affairs Martina Munsters came away with a positive impression of the counter-protest. 

 “From what I’m hearing, it sounds like things went really well. There was no confrontation…[and] students seemed to be pretty upbeat,” she said. “They even raised about $500 for charity, which I think is tremendous.”

 

25 comments on “Westboro Church protest meets students’ mocking

  1. reply

    WTF DOES FACEBOOK HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?!!?!?
    SHOWS HOW STUPID THIS WHOLE HATE GROUP IS. THEIR JUST MAKING UP RANDOM STUFF TO TALK ABOUT.

  2. reply

    Those of us in California are really heartened by your action today.

    When I was in college one frat president, after coming out, was drummed out.

    It gives me hope the next generation has evolved and is unafraid to show it.

    When the California Supreme Court rules, please join us in a ntional day of decision action (http://www.dayofdecision.com/).

    Thank you

  3. reply

    THIS. This is how the WBC should be confronted – because no matter what is said to them, they will never change their opinions and beliefs, and so turning their arrival into a celebration of diversity and support is just perfect.

    It’s things like this that replenish my faith in people; that in the face of so much hate and fear, people like me can create joy and unity. Well done, all of you. I wish I could have been there to celebrate (and see the faces of the members of the WBC!).

  4. reply

    From Norman, Oklahoma:

    THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES for showing everyone how to confront these imbeciles from Westboro Baptist Church. Such a great celebration of humanity and diversity in the face of blind hatred.

  5. reply
    Curtis O'Neal AB '97

    As a U of C alum and former member of what was the Then Q & A group, I’m very proud of the peaceful, joyous and productive response to the protest.

    I also agree that the protesting group isn’t going to change its position, but its clear that Diversity of Ideas and Identities, and spirited debate are still alive on my campus.

  6. reply

    It’s things like this that make me miss living in Hyde Park! The U of C does the city of Chicago a great service by being such a diverse institution! WAY TO GO to the students and men of Alpha Delta Phi!!

  7. reply

    Er, John Connor – please tell me you’re joking. The facebook sign was from the counter-protesters. Not from the WBC.

  8. reply

    Everybody is right in some ways and no one is totally right. People who believe they know everything (and feel that they must impose their beliefs on others) can be toxic, but confronting them angrily spreads the toxins. Taking the example of their own Savior, living our lives in joy and acceptance of others, is the best course. If they’re exclusionary, let them be. They’ll be, like the kid who brought a skunk to school, “in a class by themselves”.

  9. reply
    Arnout Schouten (Netherlands)

    Dear People.
    A few weeks ago, an Turkisch airplain with 135 people onboard, crashed near the bigest Dutch airport. Killing 9 people, injuring more then 90.

    The Westboro Baptist Church said this was because God hates the Dutch, and they wanted to come-over to protest..
    Well, I am Dutch, and sadly for us they did not come over, otherwise we would have “welcomed” them with a dance party of our own.

    Good to see the the students en citizens of Chicago organized themselves to show an other sound, and that the frat boys of Alpha Delta Phi, of the University of Chicago did not miss out on their oppertunity presented in front of their “home”

    So on the behalf off many many Dutch.. thanks.

  10. reply

    No, no, no. WBC wasn’t protesting the new facebook, the counter protest was. As a mockery against WBC.

    This entire ordeal wins so hard. Too bad there wasn’t another counter-protest at the law school.

  11. reply
    Emma Dinkelspiel

    Hahah, thanks for writing this up, Nat. Urban represent. Pretty heartening to see you guys getting all het up for tolerance.

  12. reply

    THe best response I ever saw to Phelps (and I’m from Kansas) was a system where people pledged to give money for every 15 minutes WBC was protesting. All the proceeds were used for GLBT charities. Therefore, by protesting, WBC was raising money for GLBT issues.

  13. reply

    The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a Christian church headed by Fred Phelps and based in Topeka, Kansas, United States. The organization is monitored by the Anti-Defamation League, and is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its first public service was held on the afternoon of Sunday, November 27, 1955.

    While its members identify themselves as Baptists, WBC is an independent church and is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The church describes itself as following Primitive Baptist and Calvinist principles, though mainstream Primitive Baptists reject Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps, regarding them as unaffiliated to the Primitive Baptists.[5] The views that distinguish Westboro Baptist Church are views that most Baptists and Calvinists do not recognize, and do not consider to be in any way characteristically Baptist or Calvinistic.

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  14. reply

    The Washington Post reports: Kansas Church Says It Will Protest at Whitman High in MoCo (Montgomery County, Maryland)

    A church based in Topeka, Kansas, is scheduled to demonstrate next month outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda because the school, which opened in 1962, is named for a man who may have been homosexual.

    Westboro Baptist Church has been drawing national attention for staging anti-homosexuality demonstrations at military funerals, on the theory that fallen troops are God’s punishment for a country tolerant of homosexuals.

    The church Internet site says a picket is scheduled for the afternoon of April 24. A narrative on the event states that the school’s name “certainly explains A LOT about Maryland.”

    What a bunch of hateful non-Christian-like people! Christians follow the lead of a man who loved all people, who did not show hate or set forth religions, ethnicities, countrymen or sexual affiliations as precursors to the afterlife in Heaven.

  15. reply

    Way to go! Further proof that the enlightened college community will always trump over the psuedo-religious hate criminals, through peace and tolerance.
    Tsk tsk, Mrs. Roper. Do you really think you’re actually encouraging people to join the Christian faith?

  16. reply

    I LOVE the Phelps-a-Thon idea (people pledge a certain dollar amount for every segment of time these idiots speak). I’ve started doing it myself on the GBLT forums on Yahoo answers, with 25 cents for every hateful post.

  17. reply
    Chicago North Side

    It would be awesome if they went a few blocks South to the real Southside with their message. I’m sure they wouldn’t come out alive.

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