Students flocked to the Memorial Union this Wednesday, Sept. 28, to protest the Cross County Evangelism group who came to the University of Rhode Island to preach their message to the campus community.
Starting at around noon time, the Cross Country Evangelism group stayed until 2:30 p.m. amidst angry remarks, screamed questions and gawking students and faculty. “You’re real tolerant!” yelled one protester. “No hate!” screamed another.
“The reason that we’re here, we want people to turn from their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ,” said Mike Stockwell, one of the main preachers with the Cross Country Evangelism. “We want to reach as many people as possible with the message of good news… We just want to bring the good news of the Gospel and pray that the Holy Spirit will change their hearts.”
According to Stockwell, their message is for everyone to repent their sins and put their trust in Jesus Christ so that when they face God they can receive forgiveness for their sins. “Jesus Christ died for the sinners and those who repent, their trust in Jesus Christ can receive forgiveness.”
Throughout all the anger, these preachers continued to yell out to the crowd of URI students and faculty. “We have a great message. We have a great savior… there’s great hope in Christ. There’s no hope in you,” said one preacher. “You’re free to reject the word of God. But one day you’ll stand before him and be judged.”
Sophomore Hannah Bedard and Jaide Wendt were at the protest for two hours. Wendt thought that the preachers were ridiculous and that she was “against [the evangelist preachers] being here.”
“It was more organized [when we first got here,]” said Bedard. As more students got out of class, the mass of protesting students grew and grew.
Many students quickly created posters, some reading “I met God, she’s a black, gay, transgender woman” and “Yay for evolution, free gay kisses.” Other students held up books written by Bill Nye or draped themselves with flags in support of trans pride, LGBTQ pride and the Human Rights Campaign.
Around 2:00 p.m. the Gender and Sexuality Center quickly put up a table next to the Evangelist preachers, handing out writing prompts, rainbow bracelets and poster-making materials.
Senior David Lockwold who works at the Gender and Sexuality Center said, “We came to be a place of acceptance and love in a place like this.”
Some students thought that the protest was maddening and crazy. “Everyone should just go to class,” a student in the crowd yelled. Other students, like, Ben Trager, freshman, believed that “everyone around [was] just egging [the preachers] on.”
One protester, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that it was very hard not to get pulled into the argument and discussion. “I’m questioning everyone,” they said. “I believe in free speech… I’m interested in his thought process.” Like Trager, they believe that “if you don’t believe in what he’s saying, by standing and engaging you’re giving him a bigger platform.”
Andrew Guilmain decided to stand up in the face of all this discourse, stating that the preachers had a right to freedom of speech. “I haven’t defended anything they said,” Guilmain said. “People have a right to counter protest them. But they don’t have a right to shut them down.” While a Republican himself, Guilmain believes that this was a nonpartisan speech and did not reflect either side of the political spectrum.
Kathy Collins, Vice President of Student Affairs, believed that this event was an example of “good intellectual discourse.” “I appreciate the opportunity of a land grant public university that allows people to share their views,” she said. “It’s a continuation of our education.”
While coming to campus before, this is the first time this organization has been met with such a large protest. Sheri Davis, Coordinator of Events and Marketing at the Memorial Union, helps to organize all events at the Memorial Union and quadrangle. She said, “I’ve noticed a much larger population with a counter-protest to their beliefs… [The Evangelists] followed all protocols and attended campus in all ways.”
Stephen Mook, Lead pastor for Generation Church based in South Kingstown, was quick to speak up against the radical Evangelists as they left the Memorial Union, calling their preaching not a reflection of all Christian belief. ”I genuinely believe we can be a campus of compassionate discourse,” said Mook. “[The protest] ended with people saying ‘we can have conversation.’ It’s not what you say it’s how you say it.”