Students fire back at preachers

Anger and disbelief were common emotions seen in the small crowd gathered around Shawn “the Baptist” Holes, who was one of four Cross Country Evangelists rallying outside the Davis Center April 5. As students gathered on the green in between classes and overheard messages condemning gay marriage and appealing to students to “cry out to God and beg him to save you,” some began chanting back, challenging the Evangelist groups’ positions and voicing that the homosexual community is here to stay. “Why are you being such a troll?” was one of several comments directed at the Cross Country Evangelists. One female walking by the rally threw her iced coffee at a church member standing on a rock and yelling at students as they made their way to class, prompting a UVM police officer to come to the scene and diffuse the situation. Church members complained to Officer Matthew Collins that there was a “double-standard” in which if they threw coffee on a student, they would have been arrested or removed from campus.  They also said that the action was unprovoked. In response, Collins said because Evangelists had organized the event and come to campus, they were in a “position of leadership” and held to a higher standard of accountability. Collins said the student’s action was “disrespectful,” but could not be classified as an assault because no physical harm was done. Having handled these types of confrontations before, Collins said the Evangelists are free to spread their opinions as long as physical violence does not ensue. “In the last couple years, I’ve been here and hung out,” he said. “There haven’t been any problems.” Sophomore Kristin Nelson, who identifies as queer and was a victim of sexual assault, called the message the church was sending “hurtful,” and said that at times during their speech, church members were equating homosexuals and rapists.  “My main question is why UVM is letting them come here,” Nelson said. “It’s clearly having a negative effect.” Asked whether she thought First Amendment speech rights should be protected no matter how controversial the message, Nelson said there are definite boundaries and they had been crossed during the demonstration. “The line gets drawn when the goal and the objective of the speech is hate,” she said. “They said homosexuals have ‘wicked hearts.'” Sophomore Dan Cmejla said it was good that these men could spread their beliefs, but by laying down such philosophical groundwork, the Evangelists were not considering the values of other people. “Why is he saying that evolution is a lie?” Cmejla said. “That’s part of it – I mean I believe in evolution, he loses some credibility for me there.” Mike Stockwell, another member of the Evangelic group, said it wasn’t until he was 29 years old that God saved him from a life “bent toward sin.” For the past three years he has been an active member in the upstart Evangelic group, traveling throughout the U.S. to preach the Gospel and proclaim “God’s truth.” Stockwell dismissed students’ allegations that the group had come to UVM with the intention of stirring up trouble and antagonizing the community, saying that his only agenda was that students be “rational” and hear the group out. “We’re not here to get people upset,” he said. “We’re not here to be your enemy. We’re here to have a good, spirited discussion with you.” Senior Kyle Harrington walked through the gathered students, telling the crowd to stay in school to avoid becoming like the Evangelists. “I’m sure he comes from the Bible belt,” Harrington said. “I think he came up here last year to preach, preaching all day just getting in fights with people – he just loved the attention. “He probably knows nothing of science or any scientific reasoning,” he said. Cross Country Evangelism is based in Selden, NY and is in the midst of a tour heading up the East Coast, stopping at various colleges and public parks along the way.