Six men who called themselves “born-again Christians” congregated Tuesday on the Shippensburg University campus, demanding that passersby confess their sins and prompting outrage from students.
The men arrived at the Ezra Lehman Memorial Library around noon and quickly attracted students to the area. Although most people remained peaceful, some students began arguing with demonstrator Mike Stockwell, who stood on a platform overlooking the crowd.
One man held a sign that said “Evolution is a lie,” while another held a wooden cross that had Romans 14:12 — a Bible passage — taped to the side. Another sign said “Sin Awareness Day” and included the URL to a religious website of the same name.
Students who identify with the LGBT community later confronted Stockwell, who had told the crowd that homosexuals needed to confess their sins to God to be saved.
Tuesday was the grand opening of SU’s Pride Center, leading some to question the demonstration’s timing.
Stockwell said he did not know the center was opening that day, and that it was the students — not him — who began the argument over sexual orientation. However, another demonstrator later said “that pride office shows you love your sin.”
Freshman Steven Matheson at one point broke out of the group of students to point out that everyone sins. Stockwell said this was not true, and that “some will be beaten with many strikes.”
“It’s wrong. You can’t just come here and force religion on people,” Matheson said after leaving the scene. "I'm tired of hearing something I've heard all of my life. [But] if you get angry the conflict doesn't get resolved."
The Rev. Jan Bye, SU’s campus minister, told the demonstrators that faith is about grace and love. If Jesus was here he would be on the side of those being attacked, she said.
“His definition of hateful speech is different than the actual definition,” freshman Keith Njuguna said.
Off to the side, several other demonstrators spoke with students.
Shawn Hole, a member of the Idaho-based Luke 10:2 Ministries, is a traveling missionary who creates demonstrations on college campuses across the country. Stockwell, of Long Island, also said he travels the country speaking to students.
“We like to tell people how to go to heaven. Jesus is the only way,” Hole said. “I think the hate is coming from these kids. We aren’t saying anything that isn’t biblical.”
Kim Garris, SU associate vice president of external relations, said she could not comment on the incident because it was not a university-sponsored event.
The crowd of students fluctuated throughout the afternoon as people went to and from class. When the crowd began to grow, SU administrators and staff encouraged them to leave the area.
SU police brought barricades to the area around 3 p.m., seemingly as a precaution. Throughout the afternoon, officers monitored the demonstration from nearby.
The demonstrators were escorted off campus by police about half an hour later. Students left the scene not long afterward.
Assistant news editor Hannah Pollock and multimedia editor Meghan Schiereck contributed to this article.