Campus preachers return to UK, students gather in response


UK Students and members of Campus Ministries USA debate near the Wildcat Statue on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Campus Ministries USA is a traveling group of preachers. Photo by McKenna Horsley | STAFF

Bailey Vandiver

Tensions were high as students gathered around the wildcat statue for the return of Campus Ministry USA. 

Brother Jed Smock returned to campus along with Brother Mikhail Savenko, with a sign and several colleagues.

Savenko said the group travels to college campuses all around the country. He said they chose UK because it is a big, public university with many students.

Their sign, which condemned various people, from feminists to drunkards, caused many students to stop.

UK student Damesha Bailey said she was walking to class and decided to stop.

“I saw the big old sign,” she said. “It’s very upsetting.”

Bailey was one of several students who identified as Christians but said they disagreed with how the preachers were speaking.

“I think we should spread our faith across the earth,” Bailey said. “Yet I also believe you should come to them where they’re at.”

She said she did not see “love and Christ” in the preachers’ actions.

Art education freshman Lina Delgado said the crowd was “pretty offended and heated” in response to the preachers.

“That is not what Christians are,” she said. “This is what you see and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is what Christianity is? I don’t want to be a part of it.’”

Savenko yelled at her that he was going to put her in her place as a woman, Delgado said. She said the preachers were also making racist comments.

Once the crowd grew, reaching approximately 50 people, several UK Police Department officers came to the scene.

One of the preachers pointed at an African-American student, family and consumer science senior Lenora Bass, and said she would get shot by police because of her race.

Bass said she responded to the preacher that she and the police officer are not afraid of each other. She said she approached one of the cops and told him she was not going to hurt him.

Bass and psychology freshman Mekenzie Neisz were being interviewed together when a third student, English freshman Blake Johnson, joined them and put his arm around Bass to comfort her.

None of the three knew each other before they joined the crowd.

“I don’t even know their names— what are your names?” Johnson said, turning to Bass and Neisz.

Neisz said this shows her that UK is “just a big family.”

“I know this city and this campus is full of love,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was ridiculed by the preachers because he is gay, and that he was concerned for other gay students on campus who had to hear what he considered hate speech.

“Once it reaches the level of hate speech, I think that reaches a dangerous level,” he said. “The homophobic things they’re saying are not safe for gay kids on this campus.”

He said that they could go home and kill themselves— though extreme, things like that have happened before, he said. 

Neisz said that while any student could simply walk away from the preachers, that wasn’t what it was about.

“As a freshman, I’m glad that something like this has brought students together,” she said. 

Bass said she thought the university should be doing more because the preachers were disturbing the peace.

“The university seems like they just don’t care that these people come in and do this to us,” she said.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said student safety is UK’s top priority.

“It is always the first question we ask– how best do we ensure safety and well-being for members of our community?” he said. “At the same time, a value that we uphold and share on this campus must be a commitment to dialogue and debate.”

He said this sometimes means hearing “disquieting” views and opinions.

Blanton said creating a community of belonging at UK means speaking out about shared values of inclusion and well-being. 

“But it also means being steadfastly committed to divergent and opposing views being voiced, too,” he said.

Savenko said there is more to the madness than people can see.

“We provoke people to thinking, we provoke people to dialogue,” he said.

He said the UK students’ response is typical. Campus Ministry USA uses a concept of five stages of a crowd, he said. He said the first stage is hooking the crowd with their banners.

He said UK was in the early stage today.

“It’s the battle stage, I guess,” he said.

By the fifth stage, they hope to “settle down” the students and get “more reasonable questions about the faith.”

More information about the group, including “A Defense of Our Approach,” can be found here.

“If we came out here with like a clipboard, people would avoid us like the plague,” he said.