Southern Oregon University received a heavy dose of religious fervor on Thursday, Nov. 10, when a group of preachers set up shop in the “free speech zone” in the courtyard of the Stevenson Union and began denouncing homosexuality, drug use, pornography, and other activities they believed to be sinful.
Laura O’Bryon, SOU dean of students, watched the proceedings with much interest.
“I like the energy of caring and support around the student body,” she said. Many of the students surrounding the men holding the signs felt the men had no reason to be there, and banded together in support of each other.
Three or four men, including Shawn David Holes, a Baptist preacher who visited the SOU campus in the spring, gathered in the courtyard outside of the SU and took turns standing on a stool preaching the love of God, while the rest of the men held signs and had one-on-one conversations with students. More than fifty students gathered around to listen and hold signs of their own.
Many students were content to watch the gathering and not partake in any debates.
“I don’t see the point in a yelling match,” said Nick Altishin, an SOU junior. “I have no problem with engaging them, but being verbally aggressive waters down your point.”
“There’s no arguing with these people,” said Mallory Young, another bystander and sophomore at SOU.
Jacob Shatz, an SOU junior and theater major, spoke one-on-one with one of the men preaching salvation. Shatz said the man was from a Viginia-based Baptist church. According to Shatz, the preacher said that the rest of the men he was with were all from different sects, but here for the same reason. Shatz, who is agnostic, said he seemed very logical but very deflective, avoided some of Shatz’s questions.
“The problem with faiths that are based on tolerance and love is that they’re often spread through hate,” said Paul Jenkins, an SOU senior, who spent a good deal of time debating biblical scriptures with one of the men on the stool. “The core of the belief is tolerance and love and the preacher undermines the message.”
“And that guy looks like Wilford Brimley,” he added.