Westboro Baptist Church to Protest Yeshiva University
After protesting recently at Shalhevet High School in LA, The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) set its sights on YU. In a press release, the church announced that the “God Hates Your Idols Preaching Tour” will stop at Yeshiva University “in religious protest and warning” on the morning of March 27. The small group, based in Topeka, Kansas, is infamous for its inflammatory protests and spiteful beliefs.
Westboro’s beef with YU seems to be on two different counts: killing Jesus Christ and spreading the “soul damning” (sic) lie of “It’s okay to be gay.” Westboro chose to picket YU in particular because the latter “encapsulates the perverse state of both modern Judaism and the american university system” (sic), the press release said.
On the accusation of killing Jesus, a spokesperson for Westboro said the church seeks a statement from YU administrators including a confession that “our ancestors killed the Lord Jesus Christ and His blood is on our hands, we mourn for Him whom we have pierced, we repent, and we believe in Jesus Christ as our Messiah.” Short of that, the spokesperson said, “I’m not really interested in the [YU administrators’] response.”
Westboro does not see its protest as anti-semitic. “You’re not beyond rebuke just because you’re a Jew, and just because someone rebukes you doesn’t make him an anti-Semite,” a spokesperson for the church said. “ If it did, then Jesus Christ (a Jew) and Paul (a Jew) would both be anti-Semites.”
Westboro was unphased that some of Yeshiva’s leaders have been criticized for voicing conservative opinions on homosexuality. “What difference does it make if ‘some’ of the leaders of the university oppose homosexuality?” a spokesperson for the church asked a Commentator journalist rhetorically. “The zeitgeist among the student body is to support [homosexuality].”
In a March 10 tweet, WBC showed a developing nuance in the theology of their protest slogans. “We AREN’T bringing our ‘God Hates Jews’ sign on March 27th,” the tweet said. A video attached to the tweet showed a WBC member flaunting a sign with a more qualified text: “God hates Christ-rejecting apostate Jews.”
Westboro said it expects “probably 10 at most” from the church to protest YU, including “one or more” church elders. A spokesperson said the church may also protest at the Beren Campus, but initially chose the Wilf campus due to minor logistical considerations.
Various response strategies have emerged from Yeshiva University. An email signed by Senior Vice President Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph and Vice President for University and Community Life Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander stated that the administration is aware of the protest by WBC. “As both a Yeshiva and a University committed to the nobility of people, YU firmly rejects the group’s vile message of intolerance and hatred,” the message read. The email further stated that the group will not be allowed onto YU property and that campus security will be working with the NYPD to ensure public safety. The email emphasizes that students should not engage WBC during its visit.
In what might be seen as opposition to the administration’s request to not engage the protestors, Asher Lovy and YU student James Alavosus, are organizing a student response in which counter-protesters are encouraged to bring their “funniest, dankest signs, flags, and t shirts, and just have a good time,” They expect 20 to 30 students, possibly more, to attend. A Facebook event page has 61 people listed as “going” and over 200 as “interested.” Alavosus said he wants to send a message to the group that, “being accepting of LGBT+ people isn’t a novel concept.” He would like the WBC to understand that everyone should be treated equally and with decency. The message of the student response is not intended solely for the Westboro Baptist Church but for the greater YU community: to proclaim that acceptance for all will continue to be defended.
Asher Lovy points out that though the Westboro Baptist Church is simply a fringe group, “there will be people who see it and will be hurt by the message… when the WBC shows up they should see the hate countered with love and levity.” Lovy also points out that it will still be the month of Adar, and this is an excellent excuse to have a good time.
“Part of me really wants to get into the face of these bigots, part of me doesn’t want to be anywhere near them, part of me wants to make sure I don’t stoop down to anywhere near their level, and the last part of me wants to be in morning seder,” Lovy said. One student joked about calling the Na-Nach Breslov headquarters to inform them of the upcoming WBC protest and request that a Na-Nach van be sent to YU the day of the protest to blast Jewish music and lead some dancing.
The WBC is known first and foremost for its anti-gay protests. Founded in 1955 by pastor Fred Phelps, the self-proclaimed Christian church consists of family lawyers who profit from suing the groups they provoke. The group is monitored constantly by the Anti-Defamation league and has been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Phelps, who died in 2014, was disbarred from practicing law in Kansas in 1979 for what the Kansas Supreme Court called “a lack of ethics.”
The membership of the church includes nine of Phelps’s thirteen children, his grandchildren, and a handful of other families. Nearly the entirety of the church’s 100-person membership is related to Phelps. In 1993-1994, a number of Phelps’ estranged children claimed that their father no longer maintained his religious beliefs, and that the WBC “serves rather to sate Phelps’ addiction to hatred.”
The WBC’s current “preaching tour” includes stops at a Miranda Lambert concert in Wichita, KS on March 10, an Ariana Grande concert in Kansas City on March 18th, and a trio of Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic Churches on the 19th. They then plan to stop at the White House on the 25th and, “warn Donald Trump that it unlawful for him to have Melania when he has Marla, his first and only wife.” A Church spokesman explained to The Commentator that the group expects not to change anyone’s minds through its protests, but rather “to preach, and let the Holy Spirit change hearts if He will.”