Religious demonstrators make a return to campus

Nina BartlomiejczykCopy Editor
Izzy ManzoPhoto Editor

Religious demonstrators returned to campus on Oct. 3 to preach about what member Don Karns said was a message of “how [God] sent his son, Jesus Christ, out of love, to save his people from sin.” They took turns preaching to a crowd of students from atop a stepstool in the academic quad.

Karns, a “born-again believer, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ,” according to his website, was one of a handful of demonstrators who came to campus to preach their message,
bringing with them signs that said, ‘Evolution is a Lie’ and ‘He Who Sins is the Slave of Sin.’ Karns referenced Romans 10:17 — which says “faith comes by hearing” as one of the reasons why he decided to preach.

“It’s done out of love,” Karns said, “A lot of times people ask us, ‘What do we get?’ and we don’t get paid for this. We do it out of love.”

Demonstrator Robert Gray, a member of Cross Country Evangelism, echoed Karns’ statement, saying that their message is “to tell people how they can be set free of their sins,” before what he believes to be an eventual, inevitable, judgment day.

“That one day we’re all gonna stand before God and give him the cut of our lives,” Gray said, “and he’s gonna judge us by how we lived our life -, for every thought, every word, every deed.”

English major Michael Rabuffo, a freshman, said some students were “getting up in their faces and arguing with [the demonstrators]”, which he said he did not take part in, but felt tempted to.

“It’s hard for me not to go up there and try to argue with them, but I just don’t want to give them the platform right now,” Rabuffo said, “I think they picked the wrong college to get their message across. Most people are just making fun of them.”

Interdisciplinary studies major Sean Gamble, a senior, stood amongst
some of the more vocal and radically opposed students in the crowd, saying that “[amongst the demonstrators] we have homophobes, anti-science people; we have people who represent the absolute worst of humanity”.

“I think they specifically came here to cause a disruption and spread hate. I don’t want to attack faith itself; it’s your right to believe as you wish. My feelings are more of an attack on their desire to cause harm to people through the word of their God,” Gamble said. “They’re out here ultimately trying to preach that gay people are evil, that trans people don’t exist, that scientists are evil — trying to cause harm to people by justifying it through the word of their religion.”

Karns said that while some students are opposed to speaking, he noticed that others were more receptive — one student held an umbrella over First Baptist Church of Babylon member Mike Stockwell as he spoke in the rain, while other students willingly took pamphlets that were being passed out and asked to shake the hands of the demonstrators.

“The people who are against us, they get up front, and a lot of times there are people in the back who are standing there listening,” Karns said.

Gray said that even though he and the other demonstrators have to deal with backlash from students, he finds it worthwhile as long as his message reaches even one student.

“There’s gonna be somebody who says, ‘I need to think about this,’” he said. “Somebody’s gonna ask themselves, ‘Actually, what’s gonna happen to me when I stand before God on that great day?’”

According to Karns, how they are perceived at these demonstrations across the country varies; he said that while some people walk by without engaging in conversation, others choose to ‘stay the whole day.’

“It’s almost like they’re held there,” Karns said. “But if you really saw this as an issue of faith, then all you can do is walk away. So, I think that’s where we get contention with people who somehow think this weird idea that free speech is only what you like.”

Communications major Clark Herring, a senior, said that he believes the group uses free speech and Southern’s open campus to their advantage to spread hatred, though they have the right to do so.

“I don’t think they should be banned here, because it is freedom of speech. At the same time, they still take advantage of the open campus and the liberal mindset here. It’s just young impressionable college kids,” Herring said.

Physics major Joshua James, a freshman, agreed with Herring, saying that even though he doesn’t agree with their controversial message, the
demonstrators had every right to be on campus.

“I believe they have the right to be safe preaching their message like everyone else does,” said James, “because that’s what religious freedom is. That’s how it should be, especially on a liberal arts campus.”

Despite agreeing that the demonstration has a right to occur, James said that their message and methods of reaching out to students proved to be unpopular. This, he says, is because of the demonstrators lack of acceptance and tolerance towards others, which he finds does not align with the true Christian faith.

“He’s not preaching the messages that religion and beliefs preach,” James said. “He’s not preaching kindness, he’s not preaching community, he’s not preaching outreach to other people with those values.”

“He’s simply preaching that we’re wrong, and that’s what leads to this – where you have a collection of people all screaming over each other trying to prove that everybody’s right.”

While Gamble acknowledges that the demonstrators have a right to free speech, he says that he uses his to fight back against their messages that he perceives to be hateful and intolerant.

“I try to fight back through activism;” said Gamble, “I try to be as involved as I possibly can in pointing out what they’re saying is wrong to other people. I debate them.”

Photo credit: Izzy Manzo

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