Belmont students gathered in front of the bell tower to stand together in peaceful prayer and song in response to a protest from Westboro Baptist Church.
Around 10 a.m. on Monday, three members from the church, an anti-LGBTQ religious group that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed up to picket Belmont University by protesting outside of the Curb Cafe. The Westboro Baptist protest was led by Shirley Phelps-Roper who shouted beliefs at observing students.
“God is a discriminating power,” said Phelps-Roper. “Repent to him. God hates you.”
Phelps’ personal social media accounts reflect her persecuting behavior. Phelps-Roper’s latest tweet states, “God hates Kung Fu and orange chicken.”
The group has a publicly posted “picket schedule” on its website, and Campus Security was ready for its visit. By 8:15 a.m. security officials had set up fencing to keep picketers off campus property and safely separate students from the harassment.
Just yards away, in front of the bell tower, hundreds of students and faculty assembled to share stories and pray for each other. Rainbow flags flew high, and many students wore Bridge Builders T-shirts. The congregation was led by student organization Bridge Builders and University Ministries.
On the Belmont Bridge Builders website, the organization states it, “will strive to foster examination of the intersection of faith and issues of sexuality through student led discussion, use of diverse guest speakers, social events and convocation events on Belmont’s campus.”
Bridge Builders President Hope Gipson began the meeting by speaking to the group.
“Each of you being here today, literally just being here with love and grace is significant in more ways than I believe any of you will ever know,” said Gipson. “Thank you each of you for being courageous enough to take the hard road, but the loving road this morning. Thank you each of you for believing in love, for fighting for us this morning with peace and for taking our pain seriously.”
Many students who didn’t attend the peaceful prayer faced the protesters by standing on the inside of the fence on campus property. Some students approached the protesters, while others simply observed. Two female students rejected the protesters views by kissing in front of their demonstration, resulting in a roar of applause from the bystander population.
Some students chose to travel back and forth between the two events. Many participated at first in viewing the WBC protesters and then headed towards the Bridge Builders event. After a few shared stories, University Minister Heather Daughtery prayed with the attending students, and Gipson provided closing words.
“I sympathize with all of you in that I, too, wanted to respond to their hate, their personal attacks on who I am and who my friends are with outrage, indignation, maybe even hatred in return,” said Gipson. “But we didn’t respond with hate. We are here this morning responding in love. It’s easy to scream in outrage, easy to respond with violence towards those who attack us, but Jesus never took the easy road and this morning, neither do we Belmont.”
This article was written by Kelby Bibler and Ally Pace. Photos by Carina Eudy.