Evangelists draw crowd to USI’s free speech zone

James Vaughn

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Street evangelist James Gilles (left) preaches to a crowd on campus Monday, which prompted USI student Spencer Kiessling (right) to create the sign he’s holding.

Street evangelist James Gilles (left) preaches to a crowd on campus Monday, which prompted USI student Spencer Kiessling (right) to create the sign he’s holding.

Street evangelist James Gilles, better known as Brother Jim, preached about homosexuality, “whores” and President Barack Obama, among other things, Monday and Tuesday in USI’s free speech zone.

The Evansville native, dressed in a suit, began passing out brochures titled “The Jim Gilles Story: From Running with the Devil to Walking with Jesus” around 11 a.m. Monday. By 12:30 p.m., more than 100 students and faculty paraded the area between the Teaching Theatre and the Orr Center.

“Why are you here?” multiple students shouted, but never got a direct answer.

Gilles told The Shield he was here to preach “Christianity 101.”

Nick, a sophomore accounting major, said Gilles was going about it the wrong way.

“He’s judging before knowing anything about us,” said Nick, who didn’t want his last name in the article. “I used to be a Christian, but this is wrong. Your life is your life.”

This isn’t the first time Gilles has stepped foot on USI’s campus. In Oct. 1998, his soapbox sermon was shut down by the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Department when students jumped a rope separating a group of evangelists from the crowd.

The 53-year-old Pentecostal is known throughout the Midwest for his ministry, which is concentrated on college campuses. According to various articles, he has been arrested several times, and in 2006, was involved in a federal lawsuit against Murray State University.

Junior environmental science major Spencer Kiessling stood next to Gilles with a sign that read: “This guy is a tool.”

“He’s just standing out here yelling a bunch of really bigoted stuff,” Kiessling said. “I just feel like someone needs to say something. I might not be a Christian, but I can still stand up for what’s right.”

When the protest started, Kiessling ran to the Campus Store and purchased a poster board for 80 cents.

“I’ve got some free time, and I live for this kind of thing,” Kiessling said.

Freshman Angel Gieneart said he could sum up what was happening in one word: “bullsh*t.”

“I’m bisexual and he’s basically slamming gays over there,” Gieneart said, pointing to Gilles. “Apparently I’m also a hippie because I have long hair and I’m going to hell because I listen to rock music. It’s all a bunch of inaccurate bullsh*t.”

Gieneart proceeded to “twerk” on Gilles’ comrade, who said, “This is not a BET rap video.” Another student got close enough to snap a “selfie” with him.

As time progressed, the crowd moved inward, circling the two evangelists. Some students shouted. Others flipped them off and shredded Gilles’ brochures.

Public Safety Assistant Director Stephen Bequette stood nearby.

“We’re just here to keep the peace,” he said. “If it becomes unsafe, we’ll step in.”

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