Juilliard Meets Westboro Baptist Church with "Amazing Grace"

November 2, 2016

Musicians at this morning’s protest. Via playbill.com.

One of the most valuable skills a performing artist learns is poise. The ability to handle themselves gracefully and confidently in difficult situations. That’s just how some students from The Juilliard School reacted earlier today when protestors from the hateful Westboro Baptist Church visited their campus. The students and their supporters were met with abhorrent signs, homophobic slurs and anti-Semitic statements. According to an article on Playbill’s website, the Juilliard group led a counter-protest with a very different tactic: They made a joyful noise. World-class musicians and singers from the school played several songs, including “Amazing Grace,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Talk about a striking contrast.

Playbill reports that the hour-long event was led by three members of the church, known for protesting at soldiers’ funerals and openly harassing LGBTQ individuals. Sixty to 100 Juilliard students and arts supporters, organized under the name of “God Loves Jazz,” participated by holding signs, playing music or standing peacefully in solidarity. Only a few engaged with the WBC group or joined in the shouting. Both camps were under supervision by law enforcement and were corralled by respective police pens about 50 feet apart.

Just hearing that this happened is hard to fathom. While we can’t even try to wrap our heads around WBC’s thinking, being angry that our fellow artists are being attacked is understandable. It’s what we do with that anger that matters. Slinging back hateful words is easy. Exhibiting poise in the face of adversity is not. That’s why these students’ reactions spoke volumes.

What exactly was the WBC protesting this time? For one, the arts, which apparently is a large root of all evil in America. (Yes, this is also news to us.) The group’s website states the following about today’s Juilliard event: “If you had taught those children to invest 5% of the energy they use for the vanity called “The Arts,” America would not be leading the world in racing to destruction. Clarifying, God will not ever have idolatry, fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage (which Christ said is adultery, at Luke 16:18, and other places) sodomy, same-sex marriage, murder, lying, stealing and all the rest of your proud sin, including your awful pride.”

Well, then. In response, here’s a sign held by one of the pro-arts attendees.

Via playbill.com

If there is a silver lining in any of this, it’s the artists’ remarkable poise. Aside from playing spiritual songs, they also performed a very special arrangement titled “Rick Rolling the Westboro Baptist Church.” Yes, it is indeed a stirring rendition of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Thank God for artists.

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