Oak Grove preachers spark raucous debate

Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus police monitor an unidentified member of a traveling group of evangelical preachers in the Oak Grove in front of Leonard Hall at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Tia Kordell.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus police monitor an unidentified member of a traveling group of evangelical preachers in the Oak Grove in front of Leonard Hall at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Tia Kordell.

By Tia Kordell

INDIANA –- A group of traveling evangelist preachers on Tuesday afternoon drew a rowdy crowd to the Oak Grove, where campus police responded to raucous debates over such issues as homosexuality.  Officers intervened but made no arrests, a university spokeswoman said.

“People were civil, and they were loud,” spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling said Wednesday. “There were no arrests or injuries.”

The group travels a college-campus circuit to preach in the open about Christianity, said group member Michael Marcavage in a 2:30 p.m. Tuesday interview outside Leonard Hall.

“The core message we bring is to love God and to love our neighbor,” Marcavage said. “That’s why we’re out here today.”

The evangelists preached between 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., said Mark W. Ament, a sophomore physics major who spent much of the afternoon in the Oak Grove recruiting students for his honors fraternity.

A crowd formed around 1:40 p.m. when a woman who described herself as an atheist stood on a ledge in front of Leonard and argued with one of the evangelists, Ament said.  Members of the gay and lesbian community joined the argument.

At about 2 p.m., three IUP campus police vehicles pulled onto the sidewalk in front of Leonard, Ament said.

At 2:47 p.m., campus police confirmed that officers had responded to complaints about a disturbance.

The evangelicals preached that homosexuality was a sin. Loud argument ensued.

“God’s word says that homosexual behavior is sinful,” Marcavage said in the interview. “We’re living in a culture that is embracing these types of things and its destruction of the family.”

English major Erik L. Moore, a self-described homosexual, said he was offended.

“I believe in Jesus,” Moore said inside Leonard at 2:30 p.m.  “But I’m not going to go around and tell people they are going to hell for what they want to do. That’s not Christ-like.”

Shelbi L. Brison,  a sophomore, pre-physical-therapy major, stood in the cold outside Leonard, unswayed.

“This is just shocking to see how people have different views and are arguing about it but really nothing is going to get solved,” Brison said. “They are going to still believe what they want at the end of the day.”

The Oak Grove was the religious group’s second stop at IUP on Tuesday. Allison L. Shumar, IUP’s assistant director for student life, said she was on her lunch hour around 12:30 p.m. when she saw the group on Pratt Drive near the entrance to the Hadley Union Building and advised them about the university’s policies.

“I approached them earlier in the day and explained our procedure,” Shumar said in a Wednesday afternoon interview in her Pratt Hall office. “They refused to follow it. They refused to collaborate.  Then they moved over to the Oak Grove.”

Shumar said the university does process permits for preacher Timothy Metcalf, of the Lord Jesus Christ Assembly on Oakland Avenue. Metcalf told a group of students in October 2012 that he started open-air preaching in the Oak Grove in 1992.

“We don’t approve or deny based on the content,” Shumar said. “That’s where the First Amendment comes in. We can’t — and the university police can’t — tell them to leave or do anything like that unless someone says, my education was being disrupted.”

Spokeswoman Fryling counseled audiences in such situations to stay calm and avoid escalation.

“If you don’t like what he’s saying, move along,” Fryling said.

Video taken by IUP communications media student Charlotte N. Cornish using an iPhone.

Tia Kordell is a senior IUP journalism and environmental biology major from Indiana, Pa.

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5 Responses to Oak Grove preachers spark raucous debate

  1. Great coverage, Tia. I was curious about what specifically incited the conflict between the preacher and the first student who spoke up (I think the “woman who described herself as an atheist”). What did the preacher(s) say that upset her enough to speak up? Was it the bit about homosexuality being a sin?

    • I walked up to Leonard, where the preacher was yelling. Keep in mind that preaching on academic buildings is against University policy. He said that college campuses are some of the evilest places on Earth because all we do is smoke pot, get drunk, and have premarital, homosexual sex. He said that girls give away their virginity and love their sin. He said that we are all going to burn in hell unless we repent. I stepped in and said that it is my body and my decision to have sex with whoever I want. He said that it was not my decision, but the decision of God and/or my father. I said that he was preaching inequality and he said “Whats so wrong with that?” I said that this campus was an institution of learning. I said that the students here are rational characters who believe believe in equality. He kept saying “says who?” That is when someone took the video of him saying that equality was just my opinion. Some LGBTQ members stepped in after that. It escalated while I was in class. A religious studies teacher thought that the preacher was taking it too far and called the police. When the police showed up, I told them the policy of how the preachers could not be disrupting class by preaching on an academic building. The man moved to the front of the oak grove and called for reinforcements who continued to take their preaching to a whole new level by condemning feminists, homosexuals, Muslims, and Catholics to hell. One preacher even told a larger student that “she would get a new body in heaven.” He told the LGBTQ and Muslims alike that they loved their sin and that they would burn in eternal hellfire. I called these men biggots, but they were called harsher words by outraged students. They called me a biggot back and said this is why god doesn’t want women speaking or preaching, because they yell. I told the police how this was hate speech. They said that hate speech was covered under the First Amendment, but I said it was against SAFE ZONE policy. Many students and faculty who gathered said that it was also a public disturbance, but the police did nothing about that allegation. Although they were polite and tolerant, the police kept trying to encourage me and the opposition to disperse so that we would not feed the preachers’ fire. At the advice of the police, I went to the provost office which was closed to inquire about this policy. If you want the rest of the story and more information about what happened next, just facebook me.

  2. Tia Kordell says:

    I am not sure the specifics of the argument. I have a video of a snippet of the woman and preacher in front of Leonard, both on the “podium,” arguing. I know of a couple people who were present who you could elaborate further. Would you like me to email you their names, contacts and the video?

  3. Benaiah says:

    The problem lies in different worldviews and ideologies. As a Christian, the preacher was correct to say that homosexuality was a sin. We are all sinners and the Bible does teach that. The one student said he was not going to tell others they were going to go to hell for doing what they want. But, there is one problem with that, the Bible. If we do whatever we want and that lead to hell, then I must hate you to not help you out.

    This Oak Grove Preacher wasn’t very Christian. For what I heard he was condemning and not very welcoming. As a Christian we should be willing to talk and relate to everyone. Preaching is a lot easier than sticking around and loving people.

  4. Brian Humek says:

    Everyone should read Blue Like Jazz and see how the Christian group on that campus acted, they offered a lot more love and understanding. I’ve always disliked open air preaching on campus. It’s like the people who do it are simply looking to cause trouble. It’s just sad that Jesus has a very bad PR firm, their name, Christians. I am one who has been a bad publicist for Christ and for that, I apologize.

    If i ever get a chance to visit Indiana and a church or a group welcomes me to preach, I hope to meet you and tell you about my savior who exemplified love and humility, something that stands in stark contrast to these Oak Grove preachers.

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