Confrontational campus preachers return to UK campus, draw hundreds of students

A crowd of students gather in protest around a preacher outside of Whitehall classroom building on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Natalie Parks

Religious activists outside of White Hall once again drew crowds of students, many of whom protested and badgered the two preachers about their messages.

Students noted that this type of spectacle is common on campus. In past years, similar activists have also drawn large numbers of students.

The preachers denied a request for name and comment. 

A consistent group of students stayed with the two preachers, while others stopped for a moment and continued on their way. Some students watched from inside of the Whitehall Classroom Building.

Students said they learned about the preachers from word-of-mouth and social media. It’s unclear when the preachers arrived, but by 2 p.m., a substantial crowd of students had gathered. One UKPD officer was present who said that when he arrived at 11 a.m., the preachers were already there. 

Students engaged in verbal conflict with the preachers, shouting and arguing. Other students made signs or brought rainbow pride flags, while still others tried to block passerby from the preachers’ messages and cover the camera one preacher held.

One preacher’s flag said “hell awaits” for “abortionists, homosexuals, liberals and minorities,” among other groups. The preachers also spoke out against “pre-marital sex and masturbation.” 

“You’re the future and it’s scary,” one of the preachers told the students.

Early gatherers threw objects at the preachers. One student ran off with one of the preacher’s backpacks. According to UK spokesperson Kathy Johnson, the student quickly dropped the backpack. 

The backpack was returned to the preacher, who declined to press charges, Johnson said in an email. 

“Students were advised by UKPD that removing items belonging to the preachers is unlawful,” Johnson said.

Christian students were angered by the preachers, citing Bible verses back at them and asking if they would go to hell.

“You are shaming Christianity right now,” yelled one student.

Freshman James Woodring stepped in between the preacher and students and tried to intervene.

“Everything he’s saying is not the right way to reach unbelievers,” said Woodring. As a Christian, Woodring said he felt the preachers were not representing the word of God in the right way.

“You teach them in a positive way, you don’t come out here with a sign judging them,” Woodring said.

As the crowd grew into the afternoon the UKPD officer asked one preacher to move into the grass to open up the sidewalk. The officer was later replaced by two other officers.

Students alternated between chanting “bulls**t”, “get a job” and “go home.” Repeated cries of C-A-T-S permeated the loud atmosphere.

Austin Vaughn, a political science and history major, was walking from the Student Center when he noticed the crowd. He thinks students should walk away and not give the preachers and audience.

“They’re here for the audience so they can spread their message and they’re always saying something I slightly agree with, but they’re rabble rousing…” said Vaughn.

Most students did not take the preachers seriously and many thought they were just here for attention. 

“It’s not taken seriously at all,” said Tommy Fricker, who stopped to watch after noticing their banner. “There might be a group of people, like the minorities, the LGBTQ community, who are taking this fairly seriously, but everyone else it’s like, it’s a joke,” said Fricker.

“They’re kids being kids,” said agriculture major Elon Michael of students who taunted the preachers . Michael thought students’ signs were funny, as did Fricker.

“He stirred up the hornet’s nest,” said Woodring. “It’s what he wanted to do, I believe.”

For many bystanders, the confrontations came down to free speech.

“He’s allowed to say what he wants to say, and we’re allowed to say what we want to say,” said Michael, who thought the preachers should not yell at students like this.

“I don’t think students should be doing what you hear through the mic in the background,” said Vaughn over continuing chants of profanities. “Sure yes, disagree, please disagree, but not this way.” 

Several students found the preachers a source of amusement. Many took videos and posed for pictures next to the preacher.

“I can’t leave. I’m just so entertained,” said Fricker.

“Still better than class,” said one student as he walked away.

By 4 p.m., the crowd had shrunk to less than 100, and the two preachers left with a UKPD officer walking behind them. The remaining students quickly dispersed.