Street preachers provide interactions for students

Jesse Szweda, Opinion Columnist

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Jesse Szweda

Like other students at this University, I had a Christian upbringing, which meant I got to hear plenty of preaching throughout my childhood.

However, this preaching always took place within a church on Sunday morning.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I discovered some Christians actually preach in public and that college campuses are often their favorite place to do it.

This brand of evangelism is often called open-air preaching, and though not all evangelists that come to our campus preach, most of the students I know have had at least one encounter with an open-air preacher.

Needless to say, many students dislike them.

It’s not uncommon to hear stories of these preachers behaving in a verbally abusive manner, usually against LGBTQ+ students.

Incidents like these have led some people to question whether they should be allowed on college campuses.

I think we as students need to accept the presence of these preachers on our campus.

Though I often disagree with their message, I believe that open-air preachers provide an opportunity for students to interact with different world views, and this can contribute to an atmosphere of intellectual exploration that is ultimately beneficial to our University.

It’s not too hard to find students on campus who have an opinion on the subject of open-air preachers, and many of these students are Christians themselves.

UW Oshkosh senior Aaron Knoll is the leader of a Bible study for His House Christian Fellowship and said he thinks there are limitations to open-air preaching as a method of evangelism.

“We have a responsibility to share the Word of God,” Knoll said. “One of the things you have to realize, though, is that simply telling someone that God exists only goes so far.”

Knoll said he believes that some of the most powerful ministry is carried out on a personal level, forming bonds with students and emphasizing the importance of a relationship with Christ.

“When we do that in a more personal way, I think that shows God’s love fuller,” Knoll said. “But I wouldn’t dismiss the ability for God to work in people just sharing the word publicly.”

Faith-based clubs on our campus tend to focus on this style of evangelism. However, the open-air preachers I have spoken to place a greater emphasis on public preaching.

Duane Schneider, a open-air preacher who frequently comes to our campus, said that Christians who preach in public places are acting out of love for their neighbors.

“I would say that the most loving thing we can do is to warn others,” Schneider said. “I believe street preaching is a siren that sounds the alarm that one day every one of us is going to stand before God.”

Heath Pucel, one of Schneider’s fellow preachers, also said that universities should be careful not to suppress the free speech of open-air preachers.

“In a realm such as UW Oshkosh, it’s a world of academia,” Pucel said. “We talk about a world of free thought and ideas. To limit one idea over another is to restrict the free flowing thought of ideas.”

Ultimately, open-air preaching is a form of free speech, and if we take our civil liberties as Americans seriously, then we need to respect the right of open-air preachers to take their message to our campus.

Do some of these preachers act in a hateful or disruptive way? Absolutely.

But for every one of those preachers, there are just as many who refrain from attacking students personally and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement if any complaints are received.

The University has been called the marketplace of ideas, and the more ideas students are exposed to, the more this atmosphere of intellectual exploration and debate can flourish.

And I think we should all be able to agree on the value of that atmosphere.