Matt Bourgault, dressed in camouflage fatigues and wearing a warning sign, spars verbally with students on the ETSU campus Friday afternoon. Dave Boyd photo.
A traveling preacher exhorting messages of condemnation against homosexuals and various sins was met by a large crowd of East Tennessee State University students Friday in an attempt to take the focus off his message of judgment.
A full-time campus preacher out of Kinard, Fla., Matt Bourgault said he happened to be in the vicinity of ETSU Thursday and thought students could benefit from his take on the Bible and God’s message.
Calling themselves “Consuming Fire Campus Ministries,” Bourgault and his family claim to be home missionaries to the campuses and streets of America and overseas since 1999.
“The Bible gives a message of hate to the sinner, but also a message of love,” said Bourgault, wearing a placard reading: “Drunkards, Fornicators, Pot Heads, Idolaters, Adulterers and Lesbians ... Judgment is ahead.”
“I’m preaching straight from the Bible and I’m recognizing my First Amendment rights.”
Though he did have a permit to be on campus until 4 p.m. Friday, hundreds of students protesting and passing by seemed taken aback by his stance on social issues, especially homosexuality. Senior Brooks Lastinger was one of them.
“He’s been very vocal about his hatred for gays,” said Lastinger, who was holding a sign that read: “The Bible is not a weapon of hate, but one of love.”
“We’re just out here showing him that we’re bigger than that and trying to take the focus off him.”
Lastinger said Bourgault had been very vigorous at engaging the students on his message and vice versa on their beliefs.
“He’s basically said things like ‘God is commander and chief and your commander and chief calls for you to repent,’ ” he said. “He’s really managed to get a lot of people out here organized against him.
“To me, he just seems like a bigot.”
Numerous other posterboards were scattered throughout the crowd in front of the Sherrod Library. One in particular was prominently displayed in the center of the crowd and read: “God will judge me, I don’t need you to.”
This particular sign was made by Hannah Love, a sophomore, who had been at the protest for an hour after her class had let out. She had also attended the same protest Thursday.
“I’m out here because I disagree with this man’s message,” Love said. “He’s said so many hateful things, and a lot of us got tired of hearing it.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in the two years I’ve been here, but it’s encouraging to see us uniting as a campus.”
Love’s friend Wes Brookshear was one of the more vocal demonstrators as he stood on a wall directly behind the partitioned area where Bourgault stood.
“He called me a (derogatory word) yesterday and I’m going to burn in hell apparently!” said Brookshear, addressing the throng of students.
“This is a message of love, but peril to the sinner,” Bourgault said.