Students walking past Kendall Hall last Tuesday afternoon heard a man from Louisiana yelling a question to a crowd that had gathered to listen to him.
“Why should God not throw you into the lake of fire?” the open air preacher asked.
The preacher, Jeremy Sonnier, held a tall, narrow banner over his head that said God would judge Roman Catholics, Mormons, unsubmissive wives, unloving husbands, adulterers, baby killing women and homosexuals.
Some students offered answers to his question: “Lakes have water, not fire,” one student said. “Because I’m better than God,” another said. Sonnier blew a whistle and told the students they were wrong. And then he asked the question again.
“If they’re upset by it, then I know we’re getting through to them,” Sonnier said in a brief interview during the demonstration. “The Gospel is very offensive. . Man is a sinner. His only hope is a savior.”
Some students said the demonstration was intolerant. Others said they skipped their 2 p.m. classes to watch the demonstration. Approximately 30 students watched at a time, with the crowd changing with the transition of classes between 1:30 and 4 p.m.
“I was walking to class and I was mystified,” Michael Wargo, junior communication studies major, said. “It was exposure to something you don’t see every day.”
He skipped his class to see what would happen at the demonstration, which occasionally got heated. At some points, a group of three or four Campus Police officers stood off to the side to see that the demonstration stayed under control.
In a tense moment, a young woman told the other of the two preachers, Robert Breaud, “You live in an imaginary world.”
“Your God is imaginary. That’s what’s imaginary,” Breaud said.
Breaud wore a black hooded sweatshirt and had a bushy gray beard. He played some songs on his acoustic guitar.
“This is for the porno freaks,” he said, before breaking into song: “Just say no to porno . just tear up that magazine, just turn off that computer screen.”
He also sang songs about Catholics and one called “It’s Not OK to Be Gay.”
Several students moshed during a punk rock number called “You’re All Gonna Die.”
Sonnier said he and Breaud have been living in a fifth wheel trailer and traveling the country preaching full time, usually visiting five schools a week, for the past 13 months. They have preached in 42 states so far, with the College being their first school in New Jersey. The crowd at the College seemed tamer than at other schools, Sonnier said.
“It gives them a forum to spread their hatred,” Julie Bergman, PRISM advocacy chair, said. She said she wishes fewer students had engaged the preachers. “If they don’t have an audience, they’re not meeting their mission.”
Some Christian students who saw the demonstration said, at base, they agree with the message and it was biblically accurate, but the tactics were inappropriate.
“It’s almost like they’re taking the Bible and slamming it over people’s heads,” Matthew Warren, a student involved in New Jersey Christian Fellowship and Protestant Bible Fellowship, said.
Sonnier said he and Breaud were “provoking people to think about God and the Bible.” He said their demonstration usually creates a buzz on campus that could give other Christians an opportunity to preach to students.
“You can see from the comments from the students that he’s not creating substantive conversation,” Warren said. “After he generates this conversation we’re going to have to do damage control.”
“I think it’s a positive thing for the campus,” Wargo said. “I don’t agree with what they said, but it was interesting nonetheless.”
Shari Blumenthal, assistant director of Auxiliary Services, said the College has between five and 10 demonstrations of this sort each year. Demonstrators are asked to fill out a Demonstration Request so school officials know who is on campus and what is being said to the community, she said.
“Sometimes it is a preacher, sometimes a group to save the environment or stop cruelty to animals,” she said. “It varies.”