Though warm weather is usually seen as an invitation for activists to take their causes to The Oval, a group of Christian evangelists drew crowds, police and threats on the Oval on Monday afternoon.
Three preachers, Mikhail Savenko, R. D. Christian and John Williams, of the group Militant Christian Media, were speaking on gay marriage, Islam, masturbation and other topics they considered sinful.
According to the large sign they carried, “homos,” drunkards, “gangster rappers,” Democrats, Catholics, “immodest women,” “cigarette suckers” and “white suprimisists” (sic) are all going to hell.
Students, up to 100 at a time, gathered around the three preachers to listen, voice their opinions and verbally fight back, sometimes taking offense, other times mocking them.
“This man is obviously expressing his First Amendment right for freedom of speech,” said Benjamin Kanas, a first-year in biology. He continued by saying he was ashamed that this was taking place on campus, but acknowledged the students’ and the preachers’ rights to speech.
Buckeyes repeatedly got into the middle of the ring around the preachers to debate and spread their own opinions. Some threats and provocation of violence were heard at the scene.
Police and administration, including Mark Evans, associate vice president for the Office of Administration and Planning, were present to keep watch over the proceedings.
“We’re just kind of keeping an eye on the crowd and making sure everyone is safe,” said University Police officer Lt. Alex Rayner.
Though using space on The Oval requires registration through a system called Buckeye Events Network, and signing up is limited to Ohio State student organizations, the preachers were not in violation of the rules since they did not have a table set up, said Dave Isaacs, spokesman for the Office of Student Life.
“You can reserve space through BEN,” Isaacs said. “But if you are just speaking on The Oval, you don’t have to register. If you stake a claim to a space, you have to register.”
Williams, whose views included equating feminism to terrorism and saying that Islam is “a big proponent of pedophilia,” invited students to be judged before him, although he emphasized that he was doing the judging in God’s will, not his.
Students obliged, most in an attempt to mock him.
Amanda Haymaker, a first-year in biology who was condemned to hell by Williams, wasn’t offended.
“I already know I was going to hell (according to Williams’ standards), but I wanted to see how he would back it up,” Haymaker said. “It’s so ridiculous … it’s past the point of serious.”
Madison Burris, a second-year in health sciences, said although she thought the content was offensive, the preachers’ messages were ultimately “hilarious.”
“At the end of the day, you can’t change (Williams’) opinion,” said Burris, adding that Williams was “too closed-minded” to take seriously.
The Lantern’s interview with Burris was interrupted by a volunteer who was using the large gathering of students to register new voters.
Nearby, Michael Schroer, a fifth-year in mechanical engineering, formed an alternate circle to evangelize in his own way with his own homemade sign reading, “Ask me about the actual message Jesus told.”
“I’m just trying to communicate a clearer message of what Christianity is about. I don’t know what he’s been teaching. All I know is his sign communicates the wrong message of Christianity,” Schroer said of Williams.
By coincidence, Josh Steiner, a second-year in mathematics and atmospheric sciences, had a table set up close by on The Oval with Ratio Christi, a non-denominational Christian campus group quietly passing out literature to passersby.
“The problem with these preachers is that they know what’s going to happen, they know they’re going to get student backlash,” Steiner said. “And that sort of reinforces their whole goal … that they perceive they must be doing something right.”
Steiner added that just because he was also Christian, that didn’t make him immune to the preachers’ messages.
“This kind of stuff even hurts me,” Steiner said.