Religious preachers cause a scene in Free Speech Area
Campus Ministry USA has been preaching on campuses for nearly four decades
“Sister Pat” proudly held a bright-yellow sign with bold red and black letters that read, “YOU DESERVE HELL” during the past four days on campus.
Pat has visited hundreds of university campuses during the past 35 years to spread the message of Jesus Christ, but her message isn’t always received well.
She and her travel partner George Smock have been preaching their blunt, controversial messages in the Fresno State Free Speech Area, but ended their stay just yesterday.
Pat, who refused to give her full name, is a member of Campus Ministry USA, a Missouri-based organization that strives to persuade college students to read the Bible and “repent their sins.”
Their week-long stay on campus has caused some criticism and occasional heated debates.
“We’re not pushing a denomination,” Pat said. “We want these students to make decisions on their own.”
Pat and Smock spent several hours a day on campus since Monday, using what they call “confrontational evangelicism,” a more aggressive form of preaching Christianity. They’ve been preaching on U.S. campuses for nearly four decades, and they’re used to the criticism they receive.
Political science student and Associated Students, Inc. Senator of Resident Affairs Sean Kiernan opposed the group’s message and held a sign near the speakers that read, “You deserve hugs!” on Thursday.
“The idea that we are doomed for hell is absurd and there is no substantive reason to believe that,” Kiernan said. “Other people, including other Christians, think [the speakers] are too extreme.”
Kiernan said that a lot of students have hugged and thanked him for contributing his message.
Alejandro Vidal, a Fresno State student and member of the Christian fraternity Alpha Gamma Omega, supported Campus Ministry USA’s message. He said that Pat and Smock needed a little help conveying their beliefs in better terms, so he and his friends held signs near the speakers in support of Jesus Christ.
“We’re just trying to complete their message,” Vidal said. “We just love Jesus.”
Campus Ministry USA has traveled throughout the United States and the world, going as far as Ghana to defend and glorify God. Pat and Smock were in San Diego before visiting Fresno State, and their upcoming agenda includes campuses in Davis, Sacramento and Portland.
Coordinator of Student Involvement Josh Edrington said that initially, Pat and Smock didn’t receive permission to appear on campus. They later went through the correct procedure to use the Free Speech Area. Edrington added that similar controversial speakers have ignited violent responses in the past, but that no students have complained about Pat and Smock.
Pat said that on other large campuses, atheist student groups have organized protests. Earlier this week, Pat said that a Fresno State student became angry at Smock and “got in his face,” prompting other students to calm him down. She thinks Fresno State has been much more calm because it is a commuter school and students aren’t constantly on campus.
“This group at Fresno State has been more receptive,” she said.
In 2007, Smock ignited a debate at the University of Kansas when he publicly condemned homosexuality and called women who wear shorts “sluts.”
Kiernan said that although he disagrees with Pat and Smock’s messages, they have a right to speak their mind.
“I appreciate that there is a Free Speech Area where they can spread their message and we can counter it civilly,” he said.
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