By Garrett Cecere and Camille Furst
Managing Editor and News Editor
The barriers were set up, the tape was wrapped around and Campus Police pulled up outside the Brower Student Center, in preparation for the protest.
The Bible Believers, who had previously visited the College approximately one year ago, returned around 12:30 p.m. with new and familiar signs on Wednesday, April 10. For about four hours, they preached their beliefs about various religions, minority groups and acts that they believed to be sinful, which many students defied in various ways, such as shouts, apathy and statements of their own.
The group of protesters consisted of four male individuals, two of whom were adolescents.
Just as the protest was about to begin, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Sean Stallings sent an email to alert the campus of the group’s presence, encouraging the College community not to engage with the Bible Believers, but rather with the Diversity Summit, which was happening just a few hundred feet away in the Brower Student Center.
“From their visits last year, we know that their message is at odds with the diverse and inclusive community that we value,” Stallings said in the email.
Stallings’ also acknowledged that the group has the legal right to voice its opinion on campus.
“The college recognizes the group’s right to free speech under the constitution and its legal right to occupy designated public use space on our campus,” his email read.
While their protest drew a smaller crowd compared to last year, the Bible Believers continued to preach to the students who showed up. One protestor, Pastor Aden, wore a shirt that read, “you deserve hell” and spoke about topics such as homosexuality, Islam and atheism.
“Atheism is the trailer trash of all religions,” he said.
At another point in their four-hour protest, Pastor Aden displayed his views on homosexuality by stepping on a gay pride flag. He also stepped on the Quran, Islam’s religious text.
He only allowed questions from the men in the audience. After being asked multiple questions by female students, he said that he had “not permitted women to speak.”
As Pastor Aden preached, one of the adolescent boys held a sign that demanded that “homos,” “muslims,” “witches,” “gamers,” and “rebellious women” to “obey Jesus or hellfire.”
On the same sign, they cited www.ChristianInterviews.com, a site which leads to their Facebook page consisting of various videos preaching the same beliefs said on Wednesday.
On the same page, the Bible Believers continuously post videos and articles about the times in which they preached to college campuses.
Another member, James Ross, who said his name was Brother James, spoke next as he held a sign that read, “gamers are murderers.”
“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said to the crowd. “We don’t hate you. We don’t. No, God hates you, and that’s why we’re here.”
Ross continued the theme of gender roles with his preaching and claimed that women should be trained as if they were dogs.
“That dog over there, you see how it’s trained?” James said in response to a dog barking nearby. “That dog listens a lot better than the women on this campus. And that’s a problem.”
In response to the group’s claims about the LGBTQ+ community, two male students also stood up on one of the benches and kissed, which prompted applause from the crowd of students. Another student then donned a gay pride flag and confronted Pastor Aden.
“It’s really sad just to see, I don’t know,” said Josh Oh, a sophomore political science major who wore the flag. “Christianity is supposed to be a religion about love and acceptance and forgiveness … For me, as an openly gay person, I have no issue coming out here with my rainbow flag and just making a statement.”
The two boys also took turns speaking, with the older one holding a sign that read, “women belong in the kitchen,” as he addressed female students and said that they are not real women.
“Instead of opening your legs to some whoremonger on the streets, open your heart to the kitchen,” he said.
The younger boy spoke about homosexuality as he held a sign that read, “whores deserve STDs.”
“It’s not okay to be gay,” he said as he raised the sign above his head. “You’re gonna die.”
“We’re all gonna die,” several students shouted in response.
Throughout their preaching, they continually criticized many students of being “fake Christians,” in the fact that they have different political beliefs than the group.
After being antagonized about her own beliefs, senior special education and English dual major Corinne Petersen felt disheartened by what they preached.
“As a follower of Jesus … my role as a believer is not to scream at people and tell them that God hates them, but that God loves them and desires only that have peace and blessing in every way,” she said. “Salvation is open to everyone who accepts Jesus. It’s not about how much we’ve fallen short, it’s about how much God has to give us.”
Another student, Victor Mazariegos, stood up on the bench and diverted the students’ attention away from the protesters by sharing his own views.
“Alright, you guys aren’t sharing the gospel, I might as well just do it,” he said in response to the Bible Believers. “The Bible says that everyone is a sinner, but Jesus Christ died for everyone’s sins. God loves you and he will not let you die … he sent his only son to die on the cross, so that you may have a relationship with him. These guys are a bunch of fools and lunatics.”
His speech garnered an applause from the other students surrounding the Bible Believers.
Other students reacted by finding the protesters comical. Daniel Villardi, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said it was the “best comedy I’ve ever seen.”
On Thursday, April 11, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs William Keep addressed the demonstration in an email to the campus, commending the College community for upholding its values.
“Yesterday, we again demonstrated TCNJ values by: a) celebrating and embracing diversity, b) upholding free speech, and c) ignoring messages intended to insult and provoke,” his email read.
Keep also suggested that students avoid engaging with the group’s members if they return to campus in the future.
“In a community of learners, words matter. Ignoring inflammatory, insulting, and hurtful words can be difficult,” Keep said in the email. “Wasting time engaging others who are not interested in learning is worse. We write to thank you — our community members — for both celebrating diversity and ignoring those who seek to disrupt our work as educators.”