Tangible tensions were present on Scholars Lane as students gathered around three members of The Campus Ministry-USA. This trio consisted of Brother Jed (the leader), Sister Cindy Smock, and a woman known as Myrna Bennett. On Monday, April 15th, the group came to the UC Merced with the intention of spreading “God’s word,” something which sparked many questions and conflicts. The initial interaction between the students and the group was started when people passing by noticed the controversial posters that the Ministry members were holding. Myrna Bennett displayed the sign, “Hell is hot, don’t be a thot,” and Brother Jed held one which said, “ask me why you deserve Hell.” While the altercation began as a small movement, with only a few students engaging in the conversation, it quickly became heated. Both sides exchanged their beliefs with great passion and intensity, quickly building an audience of what felt like hundreds of students. The campus quickly became divided into groups of differing beliefs, with some individuals advocating for administration to kick them off campus, and others justifying their presence as an expression of free speech. Another problem which came to fruition was the question of whether either side was addressing the problem in a constructive or mature manner. Despite the wide variety of views held by all parties, all sides engaged in an aggressive dialogue with one another in an attempt to support the validity of their beliefs.
As the disagreements grew larger and the conflicts intensified, students began chanting towards the three Campus Ministry-USA representatives, berrading them with chants which declared that their presence was not welcome. This came in response to the Ministry’s main message: that many actions which college students engage in are sins, and punishable by “going to hell.” The primary issue at hand was the validity of LGBT individuals, and whether who they choose to love or be is seen as acceptable or not in society, as well as in the eyes of God. A significant portion of the student population was furious with the assertion that God would not accept them, and cited biblical verses which justified their claims. Other individuals, though, called upon those students to repent for their sins. The perspectives on issues such as these varied, but most students were in agreement that the combative approach that the organization took was not an effective way of trying to spread beliefs.
When the conflicts reached peak intensity, students began to wave sage in the faces of Myrna Bennett and Sister Cindy, causing complete chaos to erupt between both parties. Sister Cindy, who was the Ministry’s most outspoken representative, was enraged, claiming that the students had almost killed Myrna Bennett by causing her to have an asthma attack. The students then became combative, screaming about how the Ministry was being more dramatic about the situation than was necessary. Regardless, both sides found themselves furious about the actions of their opponents, and eventually disbanded the protest. The next day, the trio returned to the campus with the same invigorating passion as before, with Myrna stating on Twitter that “my 2nd day on campus was a try to see if I was ready for the mission God had for me. That is the day the student attacked Sis. Cindy Smock. Please keep Bro. Jed and company as we go back out to UC Merced.”
Overall, though the event was one which demonstrated the level of commitment each community had in defending their beliefs, it was made clear that there are a number of issues left for the students to address, such as whether or not the chants of the Ministry counted as hate speech, and if they did, whether it should be restricted. No matter which “side” someone stands on, it is important to remember the power of peaceful protest, and how essential it is for individuals to understand how their actions or words may affect others.
Photo Credit: CC Gillespie