Fundamentalist activists attempted to spread their message in the Diag the afternoon of April 18. The small group of approximately 10 individuals held signs with slogans such as “Jesus will destroy Catholics in the lake of fire.” When asked if opposing other Christians is appropriate, one fundamentalist claimed that Catholics are not Christian. When asked for comment, another responded “We’re not in it for fame. We just want people to follow the Bible.”
Demonstrators from the Graduate Employees Organization, who were protesting as part of the union’s ongoing strike, quickly diverted their attention to the small group of fundamentalists. Through bullhorns, chants such as “we’re here, we’re queer” and “we’re not here for your debate” could be heard throughout the Diag in response to the anti-LGBT rhetoric emanating from the fundamentalists and their signs. As a result, any attempt at preaching was drowned out. Several fundamentalists sported earplugs, suggesting they anticipated a loud reaction. The GEO group of at least two dozen people also sported various pride flags and pro-striking signs. While being followed by the loud protesters, the Diag preachers began to disperse. Students walking by appeared confused and annoyed by the confrontation.
The Diag has seen its fair share of fundamentalist Christian activism; this past fall a similar group attempted to preach to a crowd of students. Last year, I saw a self-described preacher with anti-LGBT signs assaulted near the corner of State and E. William. He continued with his sermon despite bleeding from his forehead.
One has to note the importance of the street preachers as a way of gauging how far down political discourse can go. Last academic year there was a group of street preachers that were a bit more peaceful, holding one smaller sign that had some inflammatory speech on it, but this group, which later winnowed down to one man, was mostly engaging in civil conversations with the surrounding people; there was a nice back and forth going. Though it is doubtful anyone’s mind was changed as a result of the meeting, it showed that the ability to have civil discourse was present. Meanwhile, last semester it was all-out pandemonium on both sides. On one side, the street preachers were calling down all sorts of fire and condemnation from the heavens, while the students were hailing Satan and burning Bibles — bad discourse overall. This protest was something more interesting. No matter what the preachers said people were ignoring them — walking by, turning their heads for a brief moment before putting their AirPods back in and going along with their days. People didn’t care. Only a small crowd of a half dozen passing out flyers for the furry and atheist clubs remained a consistent student presence at the event. At least, this was the case until GEO showed up. The union fought the preachers tooth and nail, while also denying God being male for some reason (even though throughout the Bible he makes it clear those are his preferred pronouns.) This drove the preachers off and the whole event ended soon thereafter.
Though GEO’s actions were lamentable, the other party involved was far from blameless. The street preachers do not seek converts, which raises the question, why are they there? After speaking to them a number of times, I have concluded that they want to radicalize existing Christians rather than win new followers for Christ. This mission cannot be endorsed in good faith by any Christian. Such inflammatory attention seeking drives people away from Christ, the exact opposite of the goal any Christian should have. It must also be said that the street preachers make life harder for Christians who are on campus for more than just a few short controversial hours. Building a stigma that Christians are loud, ornery, inflammatory, hateful, and rude is not something that helps. In fact, these street preachers do a lot to build up existing anti-Christian stigma on campus, and it is something that the rest of the Christian population at the university has to deal with.
Michigan Review staff photographer Nick Gillin contributed to this article.