Photo by Tanner Dedmon / Managing Editor
MTSU students responded to an inflammatory preacher by organizing counterdemonstrations on campus Wednesday.
Just a day after a panel discussed free speech on college campuses and touched on designated free speech zones, a preacher returned Wednesday to read select Bible verses and encourage students to “repent for their sins.”
The preacher’s group was met with resistance as two student groups, one offering free water and the opportunity to learn about Christianity and the second a Black Lives Matter demonstration, stood across from the free speech zone to spread their own messages.
“Yesterday, we were mostly appalled,” said Jonathan Chase, a freshman film and video major who offered others the chance to learn about his faith. “Just disgusted by what he’s saying.”
Amid the Bible verses, the preacher pointed out members of the student crowd as “homos” and “whores” while proclaiming that everyone present was going to Hell lest they repent. Chase expressed concern that these messages would prove harsh for visitors on campus and those who don’t know much about Christianity, a point that was emphasized by a group of prospective MTSU students who walked by the area on a campus tour just moments after.
“It hurts us, because we’re afraid if someone comes here and this is all they see of Christianity, they’ll never find the true love of Jesus,” Chase said. “So we’re here to show the truth.”
Joining Chase was Sara Denman, a junior pre-law major, and Megan Robinette, a junior special education major. The two students returned to the Student Union Commons after they were targeted by the preacher.
“He basically called us whores,” said Denman. “Because we were wearing yoga pants,” added Robinette.
But instead of responding with name-calling and accusations, the two wrote Bible verses on signs and welcomed a peaceful discussion about Christianity with any who passed by.
Just a few feet down from Chase’s group, another gathering was taking place as students participated in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Led by students such as sophomore Arionna White and junior Zaria Walker, the group used the growing crowd as an opportunity to spread their message.
“The other day, he said that black folks were going to Hell because we weren’t made in God’s image,” said White.
After several students told White and her group about the commotion in the Student Union Commons, the group moved from their original location by the Business and Aerospace Building to take advantage of the opportunity to make themselves heard.
“Really, this is a time for anybody who has posters to come out,” said White. “We have issues, and this is an issue, so what better way to demonstrate? And what better way to have a crowd than to have people walk by and try to talk to us and see what we’re doing?”
Both Chase and White agreed that, should the preacher return to campus on a later date, they and their groups would definitely be inclined to repeat their demonstrations again as a way to promote their message and divert the spotlight from his offensive rhetoric.