UNT students and counter-protestors gathered outside of the Library Mall Thursday as a group of street preachers visited the university carrying signs that read “Got Aids Yet?” and “BLM Rent a Riot” on them. Previously, the organization held an “outreach” event at UNT, which drew demonstrations and counter-protests from students last year.
The street preacher organization, which is led in part by Jesse Morrell, 34, is a part of a National Street Preacher Conference that calls for “Raising Up an Army to Call America to Repentance.”
Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said the university was able to better prepare ahead of time this year “based on information received.”
“I’ve already laid the ground rules for these individuals and told them they can’t come to the other side of the sidewalk,” McGuinness said about city property. “They can’t come on campus. They can’t block any egress or the site pathway to the street, so they can’t come onto the red brick.”
Morrell said the objective of the National Street Preacher’s Conference and outreach at UNT is to “get people to talk about God [and] talk about the Bible, think about Satan, hell and judgement and why they need Jesus.”
“We like to talk about the sins that [students] love, so that they will gather around and talk to us about it,” Morrell said. “We specifically talk about the things they love, like getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, homosexuality and pornography.”
During the protest, members of the National Street Preacher’s Conference displayed signs which read that “Potheads, drunkards, hotheads, femi-nazis, gossipers, news junkies, ex-monkeys,” along with members of the LGBTQ community, were “sinners” who would “go to hell” if they did not repent.
Morrell said the street preachers are waging a “spiritual war against sin,” and that their debates and rhetoric intend to “convince [students] to surrender their sin and to convince them we’re on the right side and to win them to our side.”
Counter-protesters began displaying “anti-hate” messages including “Love is the change, change is the future” and “If your Christianity is based in hate, it does not come from Christ.”
Criminal justice freshman Ashton Jackson and hospitality management freshman Shyan Peacock, who are not in a relationship and shared a kiss while holding a sign in front of the street preachers that read “I Love My Girlfriend,” said that although they respect everyone’s opinion, it should not be done in a hateful way.
“They’re giving so much hate towards us and saying, ‘you’re going to hell and that you’re a bad person,’” Jackson said. “I just think it’s wrong to tell someone that they’re basically trash because of who they are and how they live.”
Peacock acknowledged that although she and Jackson are not in a relationship, their kiss was meant to be empowering.
“We want to spread love and we don’t want to spread hatred,” Peacock said. “We just want to show people that even though we’re not dating and we’re still kissing, that we want people to feel comfortable in who they are.”
Toward the end of the event, a counter-protester was detained and arrested after seen fleeing from UNT Police on foot. Biomedical engineering freshman Zoë Miller said the individual “flicked” street preacher Jim Gilles’ “Make America Great Again” cap before attempting to evade.
Gilles has been involved in several civil rights lawsuits challenging university attempts to either stop or limit his preaching. Previously in 2016, Gilles threatened to sue the University of Oklahoma after he was asked to leave the campus following a rally against him, according to Oklahoma City News 9.
The National Street Preacher’s Conference and outreach returned to campus at the same location Friday.
Featured Image: A street preacher shouts into a megaphone as part of the National Street Preachers Conference. Image by: Mallory Cammarata.