(Video courtesy of Mason Cable Network)
On October 27, the preacher that stands near the Johnson Center with a “You Deserve Hell” sign had an altercation with a student.
The incident took place in North Plaza. In a Mason Cable Network video on the network’s YouTube channel, a student in a red sweater can be seen attempting to take the sign away from the preacher.
“You are stealing my sign. You are thief,” the preacher said as he was backing away from the student.
Two male students held the other student down to prevent him from harming the preacher. Despite this, the student continued to push and to taunt the preacher.
“Where is your God at? How Christian are you?” the student asked repetitively.
Throughout the video, the student appeared to be upset about the preacher’s opinions. At first, the student walked away from the preacher, then confronted him again. With the assistance of a couple of Mason students and a third party individual, the preacher walked away from the scene and the student finally did as well, ending the dispute.
Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life, stated that North Plaza is a place where anyone can express their opinions.
“The North Plaza has been a pretty consistent spot over the years for many people, both in and outside the Mason community, to express themselves, their beliefs, and philosophies,” Pascarell said in an email.
She continued that there have been multiple incidents like what happened Oct. 27 in the past.
“There have been times when ‘preachers’ and others come to act and speak provocatively about a number of things in an effort to grab student attention in hopes of conversation and argument. The North Plaza, like many other outdoor spots on campus, are public spaces—spaces where freedom of expression is a right—even if that expression is designed to provoke,” Pascarell said.
On Mason InterVarsity’s Facebook page, a couple of students were asked for their opinions about the preacher and the altercation with the student.
Josh Tsonga Anderson wrote that“it’s scary to see someone trying to scare people to faith (if he’s doing that at all, all I hear is yelling lol). That could be a reason peopled don’t want to give their life to Christ because it’s being forced, it’s a decision you make. But who knows.”
Jay Daniel Gusman stated, “There has always been ‘bad Christians’ who go talking about and sharing their faith the wrong way. [T]he man holding the sign might be doing that, [s]haring his faith in the wrong way because while we ‘deserve hell,’ God sent Jesus so that we don’t GO to hell. Christianity is not about avoiding the bad things, but embracing the free and great gift of forgiveness, grace and Love that was given by Jesus.”
What can students do in provoking situations like this? Pascarell said there are a few alternatives to expressing anger or paying attention to what is happening.
“If you are upset or disgusted, just keep walking. Start a #justwalkby campaign. I’ve seen some students holding signs that say ‘GMU united against hate’,” Pascarell said. “Particularly for students for whom your core identity is being challenged (there have been many times over the years, for example, when those claiming to be preachers target the LGBT and other marginalized communities), you really may want to just keep walking.”
However, if students do not wish to be passive, Pascarell suggests organizing a program, writing about their frustrations or seeking the advice of faculty members.
“We also have many great resources on campus to assist students feeling less than comfortable,” Pascarell said.
Furthermore, Pascarell stressed that at the end of the day, Mason’s desire is to provide a safe learning environment for all of its students.