Preacher brings own brand of fire and brimstone to SDSU

by Victoria Valenzuela

03_07_13_Features_Picketing_PN
Paige Nelson, Photo Editor

“I’m a warner. I know there’s a hell. You don’t know that, they don’t know that, but I know that.”

Paul Mitchell stands in front of the San Diego State bookstore by East Commons, holding a large sign displaying the words “Trust Christ or End in Hell!” He’s not alone—as the words on his personal billboard attract quite a heated crowd around him. Accusations are hurled in both directions and the level of anger rises with each passing minute. While this occurrence is not the first of its kind on campus, it is apparent that the presence of controversial picketers is not well received by many SDSU students.

For Mitchell, who has supposedly preaching on college campuses for more than 55 years, the negative response he receives is one he has come to expect.

“It’s been getting consistently worse,” Mitchell said. “Most people hate my guts.”

He claims a more aggressive message is necessary to reach the minds of young people on college campuses, but his approach is certainly not generating the reaction he’s hoping for.

He described the state of not only students on this campus, but also of society as a whole.

“The worse people become and the more that you challenge them on it, the more volatile it gets,” Mitchell said.

Some students say picketers such as Mitchell are a distraction to the learning environment. International business senior Charles Pickering remembers the Freedom Steps from his freshman year, which were a part of the former Aztec Center and a place to voice opinions, picket and hold rallies. The difference now, Pickering said, is that without a designated location picketers are free to demonstrate in more congested areas. A haven for diners and visitors, East Commons is a place where bystanders can be drawn into nearby events that occur.

Pickering said on the particular day Mitchell was present, small children were in the vicinity and were exposed to what he referred to as “hateful signs.”

Although the First Amendment is clear about free speech, Pickering said there must be boundaries.

“Where the line is drawn for me is where you take your right to freedom of speech and try and press your beliefs onto other people in a very radical way,” Pickering said.

International security and conflict resolution junior Shawn Voutour said Mitchell’s conduct, not necessarily his content, is the issue.

“Everybody is entitled to an opinion and has a right to expression, I had a problem with his treatment and verbal harassment of SDSU students,” Voutour said.

Many students feel uncomfortable because of Mitchell’s hostile actions. Mitchell thinks aggressive tactics and a strong presence are the most effective ways to reach out to the student body.

“I’m stepping in the middle of their life and I’m saying, ‘repent,’ ‘You’re wrong, you’re pathetic,’” Mitchell said.

Social work junior Dorian Banks witnessed the confrontations between Mitchell and the growing group of students that surrounded him.

“He was abrasive and called the students ‘idiots’ when they were trying to have their questions about his ideology answered,” Banks said.

Kinesiology freshman Alex Barbosa said Mitchell is immature.

“We have disproved many of his beliefs directly in his face and his only response is childish mockery,” Barbosa said.

Some SDSU students said Mitchell is not a true representative of Christian values.

“(He) is clearly giving Christians a bad name. Most Christians are nothing like (him). He is a radical,” Voutour said.

Barbosa said Mitchell seriously lacked knowledge on the subject he claimed to be an expert on.

“I’m not extremely religious and even I know more about Christianity than he does. He’s hypocritical and also very extreme in his views,” Barbosa said.

Banks, taking her cues from the Bible, recognizes Mitchell’s hypocritical stance on the religion he claims to support.

“There is a scripture that says, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ (He) is human like everyone else and not perfect, so he has no authority to judge. Only God can do that,” Banks said.

Mitchell has also been known to condemn other religions and lifestyles. Banks, an active member of the LGBT community on campus, said Mitchell’s statements about the LGBT community are discriminatory.

“The first time I saw (him), he was carrying a sign which read, ‘Homosexuality is a god-damned sin.’ That is slanderous in itself,” Banks said.

Besides the LGBT community, Mitchell frequently targets atheists with his protest signs. Organizations such as the Secular Student Alliance support those with atheist or agnostic beliefs. SSA Vice President and social sciences senior Derek Richards is also concerned about the statements Mitchell is spreading.

“When I see people like that, I ask myself, ‘If he is truly preaching the message of God, is that a God deserving of obedience?’ I think we can objectively say that, in this particular case, that ideology would be harmful to society,” Richards said.

Whether or not picketing should be allowed on campus, the reactions that have arisen prove to be surprisingly constructive. Amidst the crowd that afternoon, something remarkable happened that spread through the enraged mob like wildfire. It became less about Mitchell and more about defending not only themselves individually but each other regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. It was as if, for a moment, supporting fellow peers and preserving the sanctity of the university became more important than superficial differences or preconceived notions regarding one another. That day, members of SDSU’s community rose up and became one, and it was a beautiful sight to see.

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