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Westboro Baptist Church Hits New York

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Despite the attitude of many New York Jewish leaders, I am not certain that ignoring this famously hateful church group is the best way to go. In New York for a variety of activities, they have planned protests at numerous Jewish institutions, including Temple Beth El on Long Island, where a memorial service will be held Thursday for murdered Yale student, Anne Le. The temple was to be the site of her wedding to fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky.
Ignoring these protesters strikes me as a bad idea for any number of reasons, not least of which is that when any group is as hateful and fearful as these folks are, failure to engage is often construed as tacit permission, or at least, passive acquiescence. How can we not respond to a group that announces itself like this:

Westboro Baptist Church
(WBC Chronicles — Since 1955)
3701 S.W. 12th St. Topeka, Ks. 66604 785-273-0325
Religious Opinion & Bible Commentary on Current Events
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
(Supplemental info: background, photos, audio sermons & hymns, & video footage – available free at,,,, &
GOD IS NOT MOCKED.” Galatians 6:7.
(Picket, Thursday, Sept. 24,
from 5:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.)
Jeremiah 24:2

Unlike the head of a Jewish Day School that will also be picketed by Westoboro, who insisted that “this is not a teachable moment”, I think it might be.

And I also cannot help but wonder if we claim it is not such a moment, because we don’t know how to teach the moment, or engage the issue, meaningfully.
Let’s face it, our own tradition was founded on a not to dissimilar theology, one in which God punished, often in violent and horrible ways, those who did not do precisely what the Bible said. And if we believed that our sons and daughters were dying because of the larger culture’s sexual and religious mores, would we not protest? Not in this way perhaps, but we would surely raise our voices.
I am not justifying in any way what the members of the Westboro Church either believe or do. I am simply suggesting that deep down, most of our traditions have at some point articulated similar messages, that we are all more alike than we often like to admit, and that we could engage both these people and the fear and hate which animate them.
What would happen if rather than simply ignore them, we sought a genuine conversation in which we asked what it is that has them so angry? How is it that they insist on the literal interpretation of certain portions of scripture while wholly ignoring others? Why is it that their protest is so angry and hateful? What is the cost of all that anger and hate, and who pays it?
What would happen if the head of every institution that will be picketed invited the group in for a real talk about these questions? Of course, they will probably not accept the offer, but why not try? If nothing else, it would transform their moment of hate into our moment of genuine teaching of the values we hold most dear. And the teaching, learning and sharing of those values is surely a better response to these folks than simply congratulating ourselves on being better than they are.

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posted September 23, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Rabbi Hirschfield,
Although I agree with the sentiment that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good folk to say (or do) nothing), it seems in the U.S., hate groups like the WB”C” are allowed to flourish. They may say any nonsensicl, hateful thing that crosses their ‘mid’ – and it seems to be perfectly okay with the U.S. populace at large.
The many questions you pose in your penultimate paragraph are valid, and they are ones that gay Americans have poisted for ever – with no avail.
They, themselves, are not ‘teachable’ – they’re not interested in any leearnings or insights – or compassion, for that matter.
Until America ‘gets’ what hate speech and hate crimes are, I’m afraid there is no answer to them. The ‘right’, although they say they disagree with them, are in not-so-tacit cahoots. (Can you say “death panels”?)
Unfortunately, in America, it is not illegal to falsify the news, so idjits can say whatever they want, and get away with it and damn the cost in human lives and souls.
Frankly, I blame the Crunchy Cons of the world too.

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posted September 23, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I can’t imagine NYC police allowing anyones funeral to be upset by anyone. Nobodys Funeral should be upset by anyone claiming “free speech”. It’s time it be stopped and legally.

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posted September 23, 2009 at 7:32 pm

“What would happen if rather than simply ignore them, we sought a genuine conversation in which we asked what it is that has them so angry?”
Their answer to such a question in the past has been that their anger is inspired by God, who, in their belief, is angry at America for permitting gays and lesbians to live, abortions to take place, and now Jews to worship (and mourn) freely. They believe that God is behind them, and there is no negotiating with them.
“How is it that they insist on the literal interpretation of certain portions of scripture while wholly ignoring others?”
Such is the nature of hate-based fundamentalism that is essentially self-centered rather than God-centered. Many groups use their religion’s holy scriptures in the same way, both on the left and the right.
“Why is it that their protest is so angry and hateful?”
They claim they are modeling their behavior on that of the OT prophets.
“What is the cost of all that anger and hate, and who pays it?”
They have a nice donation base, and also actively look for ways to sue the pants off those who might oppose them. When we went to Iowa City to counter-protest them, we were warned to not come near them. They had a person with a video camera who recorded their complete protest. Several of the members are lawyers who make a living filing suits against folks who violate their “rights”.
Many, many people have tried to engage these people in a rational discussion. They refuse. They do not believe that sinful people can or should be negotiated with. Their duty is to preach their message and advocate their view of God’s word.
There is nothing…nothing…that you can do to rationally engage these people. The best thing to do is ignore them. The next best thing to do is to turn their protest into a fundraiser. Have people pledge an amount for each minute Westboro is on the scene protesting. Your synagogue can make a nice little amount from this. Many GLBT groups have used Westboro’s protests like this.

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posted September 23, 2009 at 8:50 pm

In some gay communities where this group came to protest, people have started raffle (not the right word), betting on how long the protesters would stay. The winner got something small but the rest went to a charity of choice. It miffed the Westboro Baptist Church members and aided some cause in the process.

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posted September 23, 2009 at 9:39 pm

they plan on holding a protest outside of brooklyn tech tomorrow just because of our diverse body and our pro-gay choices
they plan on doing after school when there are the most people outside just to get media attention…how pathetic are they??? Tech will not stand for this kind of ridiculous behavior

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posted September 24, 2009 at 9:18 am

No, Rabbi Hirschfield, attempting to “reason” with this cult, to endeavor to try and learn from them the why, how and what that drives them would merely result in the regurgitation of the mantras of hatred they have honed over years of repetition and spewed forth on the sidewalks of America for decades. Hatred needs no reason, evil has no conscience and in the Westboro Baptist Church cult hatred and evil have been refined to their purest essence.

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posted September 24, 2009 at 9:52 am

what about the vitriol which “Kingdom of Priests” blog host David Klinghoffer spews – albeit nonviolently- against any and all Reform Jews? Is he ‘teachable’ ?

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JB Pierce

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:39 am

As a public relations employee of Southern Baptists, let me say clearly that Westboro is in no meaningful way “Baptist.” Judging by their fruits, they appear the antithesis of Jesus. I asked one of their flock protesting the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis two summers ago, accusing us of “loving” homosexuals: “Can homosexuals be saved?” His response? “Unlearned people asked unlearned questions?” These people preach condemnation without hope of redemption, bad news without the good news. They fit within no flavor of Baptists or biblical Christianity.

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posted September 25, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I agree with JB Pierce they are nothing like Christ. Their fruits are hateful. They remind me of those who crucified Christ rather than those who loved Him. They obviously cant see that Christ talked lovingly to the thief on the cross. They obviously see a different Christ than most people.
I believe however in free speech and peaceful demonstrations. Have they killed anyone? Are they a violent group? You can’t imprison someone simply because you disagree and find their actions immoral, not if they simply are running off at the mouth.
Take the Hate Crimes Legislation
We do not need to afford certain groups more rights than others. If you really study this legislation you would see that it directly violates the fundamental Constitutional protections of equal justice by promoting unequal justice under the law. It creates a two-tier system of justice where some “victims” are more equal than others under the law. This unequal justice makes one motivation for assaulting a person more heinous than another.

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Abe Bird

posted October 14, 2009 at 2:50 am

One may not ignore them,
but why to talk to them? Have they a sense at all?
Why not mock them or revile them?
Why not attack them legaly, verbally and not verbally?
They are just redheads insanes and they should be treated as such.

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posted May 16, 2010 at 1:24 am

Why do people hate jews so much? I used to believe they were ok until I had to meet them. What a horrible horrible experience! I met enough of jews to know that they are: racist, cruel, deceitful, … I found out later that they follow their holiest book called the Talmud. The Talmud is the holiest jew book that teaches that all non-jews are animals. the Talmud reviles all non-jews.

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posted May 16, 2010 at 1:25 am

Why do people hate jews so much? Even I used to believe they were ok until I had to meet them. What a horrible horrible experience! I met enough of jews to know that they are: racist, cruel, deceitful, … I found out later that they follow their holiest book called the Talmud. The Talmud is the holiest jew book that teaches that all non-jews are animals. the Talmud reviles all non-jews.

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Ann Simmons

posted October 7, 2010 at 4:30 pm

These demented individuals are demon possessed, as is their leader. They masquerade as “Christian” when they are obviously a hate group who need serious mental help. These people need a multitude of prayers.

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