‘Obscene’, ‘disrespectful’, ‘hateful’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘hurtful’ are the words Southeastern students used to describe the preaching and protesting of members of the Consuming Fire Fellowship.
Members from the Consuming Fire Fellowship come to Southeastern’s campus every other Tuesday to preach their controversial messages of condemnation and judgement. Consuming Fire Fellowship is a mission oriented ministry based out of Gloster, MS. A Southeastern UReporter poll found that not one of the 37 respondents enjoyed these religious protesters’ presence on campus or liked the messages they were preaching.
“It hurts my heart knowing that may be the only time someone hears about Jesus and it instantly turns them away. What they are doing is the opposite of the gospel. God says to be kind and love others; yelling and screaming at someone is definitely not being kind or loving,” said Southeastern student Casey Peacock. Peacock wasn’t the only one to be saddened by this condemning group. One poll respondent said, “I remember seeing them standing on crates yelling hateful messages. It broke my heart. That’s such a distortion of the gospel. The Bible says ‘He who loves fulfills the law.’ and yet they preach hate. It doesn’t make sense.” The university is a public forum that encourages free speech but at what point does that free speech become destructive to the students?
Twenty-six out of the 37 respondents, 63.9 percent, thought their methods of disseminating their ideology were offensive and destructive. “I feel attacked by their beliefs. People shouldn’t have religion forced upon them; it’s a choice,” said one poll respondent. There seems to be a fine line between encouraging freedom of speech and encouraging verbal abuse. Another poll respondent said, “I remember seeing them scream at this girl that she looked like a whore. She was wearing athletic clothes. I don’t know what that is but it’s not loving God.”
Students went as far as to say that these protesters negatively impact their ability to learn and engage in daily educational duties. The poll reported that 54.1 percent of respondents believed these religious protesters should not be allowed on campus, six respondents because they believe their speech is hateful and obscene and 14 respondents because they believe their speech serves as a distraction and is disruptive to the learning environment.
Should these Consuming Fire Fellowship members be given a place and a voice on Southeastern’s camps? Should their presence be allowed when it brings hurtful and sometimes traumatic experiences to the campus community?
One poll respondent said, “Several years ago, I was passing by on my way to class minding my own business, and one of the members of this group pointed at me and screamed “you’re going to hell for fornication!” I hadn’t spoken a word to them; they were just yelling out accusations at random people passing by. Since then, I’ve chosen to avoid them as much as possible.” These protests are far from harmless to the psyche of those who become their targets. Southeastern student Canaan Trice said, “I remember seeing these people screaming at a girl in a wheelchair, telling her that she was in a wheelchair because she was a sinner. They told her that because she was catholic, she was going to hell.”
The first amendment gives Consuming Fire Fellowship protesters the right to speak their mind on campus but few are happy about it. “They are turning potential believers away from God. Because of them people on this campus truly believe that God doesn’t love them. That is a tragedy,” said Southeastern student Madison Allen.