“Hypocrite Christians, liberals, Buddhists and homosexuals” were some of the people openly condemned by two men who called themselves “independent, Bible-believing Christians” in Plaza Vaquero on Tuesday.
Jeremy Sonnier and John Franklin, who identified themselves as preachers from a non-denominational Christian group called the “Open Air Proclaimers,” which sends its members to public places like malls and college campuses, came to GCC to share their beliefs. They attracted a crowd of more than 30 angry and offended students.
The preachers were carrying signs that read “Repent: hypocrite Christians, liberals, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Roman Catholics…and all the false religions,” “Warning: Jesus mockers, homos and lesbos, porno freaks, loudmouthed women, baby-killing women…God will judge you!” and “Don’t go to hell!”
Franklin and Sonnier’s basic teaching was that “Jesus Christ is the only way [to heaven]” and that the purpose of Christ’s life, death and resurrection was to save people from their sins. According to them, these sins included abortion and homosexuality.
“We’re here [to share our belief] because it’s true,” said Franklin. “Most people reject us and mock us. Sometimes they get violent.”
Sonnier added that they wanted to “provoke conversations and questions, and to get people to read and study the Bible.”
“We want to warn people of impending judgment,” said Sonnier.
Many students engaged in lengthy arguments with the preachers. Some Christian students who were present said that they resented the way the teachings of Christianity were misrepresented.
“I’m a Christian and a follower of Jesus, but I think [they’re] doing it all wrong,” said student Eric Brown. “What he [Sonnier] is doing is pushing people away from Christianity.”
“His intentions are good and he’s preaching true things,” said political science major Robert Karsian. “But his approach is not right. People [like Sonnier] don’t consider that Biblical teachings can be interpreted in different ways.”
Psychology and music major Gizelle James, a Roman Catholic, was offended when the preachers apparently called Catholics “idolaters.”
“He [Sonnier] is definitely not going about it the right way,” said James. “He’s offending other religions. I find it very, very offensive that he’s doing it today especially, because it’s the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” referring to a Catholic holiday celebrated in Mexico on Dec. 12.
Art major John Fox attracted his own crowd when he showed up with a sign that read, “I’m with stupid,” with arrows pointing sideways to the preachers and a cartoon that said, “Even Jesus hates you.”
GCC police officers monitored the scene to ensure that no physical conflict would occur.
“We want to make sure everybody stays calm and no one resorts to violence,” said campus police captain Nidal Kobaissi.
Despite causing angry reactions from students, police could not kick the preachers off campus because they were not disrupting regular campus activity such as classes, and were thus not violating the college’s free speech policy.
Kobaissi said that the preachers had gone to Paul Schlossman, Dean of Student Affairs, to get permission to speak on campus grounds.
The preachers eventually left campus after all their listeners had dispersed.
“They made us all feel ridiculed,” said engineering major Carlo Hemedes. “They talked like they were better than everyone else.”