When Jerry M and John L, two religious advocates from “a non-denominational church located 2 hours from campus,” arrived in Risman Plaza Tuesday morning to preach about the Bible, they were expecting a reaction.
“We travel to Ohio universities to share the Lord Jesus,” Jerry said, tightly gripping a sign that read “God’s Love” along with a verse from Isaiah 53:5. “I haven’t been stoned yet. Jesus was crucified and I haven’t been crucified yet. Paul went to Ephesus and there was riot in the city. So I expect this.”
As Jerry began preaching to passing students about the “sins and transgressions” of homosexuals and women, a small crowd of students gathered around him. The group, mainly freshmen who had stopped to find out what was going on, quickly began a kind of protest against the two men.
According to the University Policy, section 4-03.1, protests and demonstrations are allowed only within certain areas on campus, including Risman Plaza and the Student Green. Any planned demonstration also has to follow time limit regulations, though they often go unenforced. The policy states that one speaker can only utilize a one-hour time period block, but another member of the group can take over and thus the time period can last longer. Students are allowed unlimited time.
“I just came down to hear what they were saying. Some of the things they’ve been saying are really disrespectful, but some of it has been really respectful, as well,” said Courtney Combs, a freshman zoology major. “One of them will actually talk to you and let you talk, but the other guy has just been yelling a lot. Earlier he was spewing a lot of hate. Being aggressive in your beliefs will never get anything done. I think it’s a good idea for people to be talking about it, but not arguing. He says he’s preaching about love, but he’s just spewing hate. Telling people they’re going to burn in hell is not love.”
John L, the second man, was quietly talking with individual students in the crowd, asking them about their beliefs and lifestyle.
Two students, who chose not to give their real names but instead self-identified as Young Queer and Lil Squid, used their music talents to perform improvised renditions of Macklemore’s “Same Love” and other gay pride anthems. One strummed along on a ukulele while the other added harmony with a trumpet, the crowd oftentimes joining in with the lyrics.
Another freshman at the protest, who identified as Claire Boble, chose a different way of expressing her views. Sitting in class, she said she had heard about the two religious advocates but didn’t want to be vocal or aggressive.
“I’m pretty shy, so I’m glad I don’t have to do anything, like I wouldn’t be able to talk like they are, or play or anything. But I’ve got a little sign,” she said, holding up a 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper with the words ‘What a goof’ and an arrow symbol, which was often pointed at Jerry. “I was raised Episcopalian and I believe in Jesus with all my heart. I’m bisexual, so why would he make me in a way that he didn’t like?”
There were several students from associate professor Nicole Rousseau’s social problems class standing at the periphery of the crowd, watching. They said their professor had heard about the demonstration and let them leave class early to observe it.
Austin Cavalancia, a freshman aeronautics major and student in Rousseau’s class, said that despite his religious beliefs, the method and content in which Jerry and John chose to preach were not the best.
“I’m a devoted Christian, but even from my standpoint, I don’t think this is right,” Cavalancia said. “The Bible talks about how God loves everybody, no matter who they are, what they are, because we are his children and whether or not you’re gay, black, a woman, anything like that, any type of lower standard as he is saying, we’re all created equal, in the perfect image of his eyes. I think what he is doing is wrong.”
While the two religious advocates often yelled their message vocally, graphic images of a bloodied Jesus Christ and slogans denouncing homosexuality could be seen on three large display posters.
“This is totally the wrong way to go about this. This kind of stuff makes me so mad,” said sophomore applied communications major Dan Stewart, pointing at one of the posters. “That doesn’t help people. Neither of those pictures help people at all.”
Jerry and John continued to preach their message, even moving across Risman Plaza to escape the loud protesters and trumpet players. They simply moved to a different spot on the plaza and continued talking with passing students. Often, John continued to speak with individuals, calmly and quietly, while Jerry switched on his portable loudspeaker to address the crowd.
“They say they’re preaching the Bible, and they use Bible verses, so I don’t think the Bible was written in hate, but I do think the Bible was written in metaphors, so everything is to be interpreted,” Boble said, gripping her sign as she followed the two men. “But, I haven’t heard them preach the word hate yet, so I don’t think they’re preaching hate. They’re not preaching the same kind of love that I am, I guess.”
A peaceful protest
About 3 p.m., Jerry and John moved from in front of the library in Risman Plaza to a spot near the fountain in an attempt to dodge student protestors and hecklers within the vicinity. It was during this time that freshman exploratory major James Satrape stepped in and turned what was originally a shouting match into a full-fledged peaceful protest.
“It just seemed like an angry crowd all yelling at one guy, and I kind of wanted to make it two obviously different things going on where one man is speaking hatred and the people who disagree with him can voice their opinion through these signs,” Satrape said.
Satrape and fellow freshman exploratory major Aaron Smith organized any students who wanted to join in.
“Most of the people here were just walking by, that’s how I got involved in it,” Smith said. “Once (John and Jerry) moved, I had the idea of going to get signs, just surrounding them, basically. I hoped people would see our message of tolerance and hope before they saw their messages of hate.”
Smith said they purchased markers and 40 poster boards, made their own signs and proceeded with an hour-long protest that eventually drove Jerry and John off campus. The signs, meant to spread a message of love in an attempt to trump those of hate, included messages such as “Stop the hate,” “Being a strong woman is not a sin” and “God loves all his children” — signs meant to “spread the love,” they said.
“(They were) trying to use the Christian religion as an excuse to hate homosexuals and hate people, using the word sin in a different context in a way that, if you take the Bible out of context and take it very literally, you could,” Satrape said. “I have no problem with Christians or any religion, but the way he was doing it was to put down people…Even though the Bible might say that homosexuality is wrong, he doesn’t understand that those ideas aren’t still present.”
Smith said he told all the students to stand their ground, stay respectful and allow the signs to speak for themselves, keeping the protest peaceful, despite Jerry’s temperament. John, the other advocate, wasn’t as vocal.
“His message was soft-spoken,” Smith said. “But it was soft-spoken filled with hate.”
Freshman English major Scott McMaster, who participated in the protest, said the demonstration did not have as much to do with religion as it did with the battle between hatred and love.
“I was happy to see that the student protest was not an anti-religion protest,” McMaster said. “People felt really strongly that he wasn’t preaching religion, he was preaching hatred. People were offended because he misrepresented their religion, and that was one of the definite fuels to the fire.”
In light of Tuesday afternoon’s events, Smith plans on creating the Twitter handle “kent_protests” so anyone who witnesses a protest opportunity on campus can take the initiative to take action.
“If we had the entire campus know about this instead of just the people walking by this main square, I guarantee we would have a lot more people come,” Smith said. “With social media, I just want everyone on campus to know when something wrong is going on so they can be informed. It needs to be stressed that it’s a peaceful protest against things harmful to everyone else, and this was harmful to other people. He has no right to come here and make people feel uncomfortable.”