“Follow him to hell!”
One of the more memorable things from my four springs as a student at Colorado State University was the annual pilgrimage to Fort Collins by a street preacher named Jed. Jed would place himself on the wall between the Social Sciences Building and the library and, at the top of his lungs, harangue any student in earshot about the terrible choices we were all making and the inevitable consequences of our transgressions.
There was always a big crowd, and its members heckled Jed mercilessly. As I watched him perform my freshman year, it occurred to me that the worst thing we could do to Jed would be to ignore him, so I climbed up onto the wall next to him and suggested to my fellow students that rather than reward him with our attendance and responses, we should just leave him standing on that wall talking to himself.
I received a rousing ovation from the crowd, and when I jumped off the wall saying something to the effect of “Let’s leave this jerk (OK, I was 19; I said something worse than jerk!) standing here talking to himself,” the whole crowd began to follow me until Jed yelled, “Follow him to hell!” at which point almost everyone else turned around and Jed’s rant and the resultant heckling by my fellow students continued.
Now, 37 years later, CSU students are being baited again. The West Boro Baptist Church, the infamous hate-mongers from Topeka, Kansas, have announced that they will protest CSU’s graduation next month with a bizarre news release that stated “God h8s Ram fan brats” and that the graduates will “puff out their chests as though they’ve accomplished something, then go off and get stupid-drunk and rape and fornicate.”
We could have hoped that when West Boro founder Fred Phelps died last month that the church’s vile habit of disrupting funerals and other events would die with him, but, unfortunately, that appears not to be the case.
Shortly after West Boro announced it was going to protest CSU’s graduation, CSU students started a Facebook group to stage a counterprotest, and more than 1,000 people signed up to attend within a day of the counterprotest being announced. The students thoughtfully said that instead of condemning the hate-mongers from our eastern neighbor, they would protest for acceptance and love.
But when I heard of their plans, I immediately flashed back to that spring afternoon in 1977 and came to exactly the same conclusion I had all those years ago. West Boro members spew vile, hate-filled missives just to get attention. Their worst nightmare is to be ignored. CSU students and their friends and families should celebrate their successes by attending graduation and by pretending that West Boro Baptist Church does not even exist.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.