Gorham was the unsuspecting host of a religious group, Cross Country Evangelism on Thursday. The group came hoping to “spread, the Word” to students.
Mike Stockwell, along with a handful of other ministry members who proclaimed the “gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God” came to USM as a part of a their campus tour, traveling up the northeast coast preaching the gospel at different campuses.
“[The negative student response] is expected of what happens when the gospel is preached. People rebel against it. The Bible says that faith comes from hearing. So we come out and we preach God’s word so that people can hear,” said Stockwell. “God is the one who gives life. God is the one who gives salvation of the lord. So we trust that God’s people, his sheep, will hear his voice when we come out here.”
Even so, students did not receive the message as one of hope.
“I’m disgusted,” said sophomore theater major Ashley Rose. “I understand freedom of speech. I understand this is like a public domain. But to sit here and tell me that my friends and my family are wrong, and that they’re going to hell, no matter what they believe in or how good they are during their life is disgusting. They’re feeding young children these plagued words.”
Stockwell and his group are used to the response showcased at USM, because they believe men “like darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.”
“They don’t want the light to shine on them,” said Stockwell. “But we’re going to come out and stand for Jesus Christ, and proclaim his word. We’re not trying to be offensive in our method, but the word is offensive. And to tell someone that they’re wrong, people find that offensive.”
Rose believes that it is Stockwell who needs to see “the light.”
“[He needs to] see that things are not the same as they were thousands of years ago when the Bible was written,” said Rose. “You can be Christian and still think that gay people are good, and that they can go to heaven like the rest of us. And that they are no more sinned [sic] than the rest of us.”
Another student facing off against the group, senior history major Brandon Levesque, agrees, but for a different reason.
“I don’t mind the message that they’re conveying because I myself am a person of faith. The issue is the way that they are presenting the message. There’s a lot of hate,” said Levesque. “There’s a lot of fear.”
College campuses, though, are ideal places for Stockwell and fellow members to preach the gospel.
“I like the [back and forth banter],” said Stockwell. “We’re at a college. You guys have debate classes. They actually teach ‘how to debate somebody.’ We’re just having a spirited exchange here.”
Levesque believes that it is not Stockwell’s place to come to any campus, including USM’s, and “not know anybody and judge their heart.”
He’s yelling at people and telling them not to be a Sunday school teacher or whatever they’re doing,” said Levesque. “I don’t necessarily agree with the lifestyle of homosexuality. That’s great, that’s my personal opinion, but you know what? As a Christian I’m called to love people, regardless of their lifestyle. Period. Jesus did it as well. He said ‘You know what, this isn’t my intention for you, but I love you. I created you. I love you anyway.’”
Stockwell looks at the approach they have in a very different light, with an aim of simply “preaching the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“We understand that sometimes it’s received hard, but it’s because people’s hearts are hard. God has to change them,” said Stockwell. “That’s what we’re out here proclaiming. We hope that they’ll hear the word, and God and his mercy will save people through these means, through the preaching of the gospel.”
“And that is not what is going on here,” said Levesque. “This is reaping fear by hell and damnation, fire and brimstone.”
Jourdana Avital, sophomore ASL major, got into a dialogue with one of those preaching.
“Why are your sins better than mine? I love her, I don’t even know her,” said Avital. “I love everyone here. I love my fellow man, I’m not preaching against them and what they do.”
Avital agrees with Levesque and Rose that freedom of speech is important, but shoving religion on another human being is not spreading love, in her opinion.
“They’re preaching that they’re better than us, and I have no respect for that because in religion you’re supposed to love your fellow man,” Avital said.
Scott Smith, another ministry member, explains that he is honored to present the gospel.
“The gospel has an inherent offense,” said Smith. “We know that many will reject it, but there are some who will receive the message, and those who will receive are the ones we have come for. It’s not for the masses.”
Even so, compromises between the ministry and the masses were not met.
Levesque said, “I don’t need a book chapter verse to know that Jesus would look at you right now and say what you need to express is love not hate.”