A Lansing man stood on the Diag yesterday preaching hatred toward the gay. His booming voice drew a fiery and at times offensive counter-protest.
“The Pope is going to hell,” Michael Venyah shouted to the crowd of dozens gathered around him. “Homos are going to hell.”
Then, signaling one student out of the crowd, Venyah proclaimed “You are going to hell!”
The comment was one of the many that inflamed the large, angry crowd that faced off with him on the Diag for much of the afternoon yesterday.
Venyah and Chris Lemieux, who said he’d been following Venyah since he became a Christian seven years ago, berated students with religious rhetoric for at least five hours, squaring off with students who swore and cursed at them.
Both wore red shirts with yellow lettering that said “ALL HOMOS GO TO HELL.” “God did not make you gay,” Lemieux shouted, following his proclamation with obscene descriptions of sexual acts, which he said would result in damnation.
Venyah, who leads the Lansing-based Soulwinners Ministry with his wife Tamika, says he is on a nationwide tour of college campuses. According to his website, www.soul-winners.org, he and Lemieux are at the beginning of an eight-month, 15,600-mile, 27-state, 64-campus tour.
“We are here to tell the students, faculty and staff of the judgment that awaits them,” Venyah said.
Venyah also condemned oral sex, masturbation and any form of sex outside of marriage.
LSA sophomore Jeremy Borovitz was one of the many students who challenged Venyah and Lemieux in response to a derogatory comment about anal sex. After Lemieux finished a vivid tirade, Borovitz jumped out from the crowd toward the two black preachers.
“You know what else it says is OK in the Bible?” Borovitz said. “It says slavery is OK.”
Borovitz then sarcastically suggested onlookers chain the preacher up and “drag him out of here.”
Many in the angry crowd cheered and laughed.
Although most modern Christians do not believe the Bible condones slavery, scripture has been used to support the practice in the past.
Reached by phone late last night, Borovitz said he regretted using slavery as an example. He said he was angry at the preacher and that he reacted in the heat of the moment.
“It angered me what that guy was doing,” he said. “I’m not gay, but if there was a gay person there, it would have offended them.”
Borovitz said that he was trying to point out how ridiculous the preacher was being.
“Slavery’s wrong,” Borovitz said. “Slavery’s inherently wrong. I mean it entirely sarcastically. It’s a ridiculous concept.”
Other students consulted their Bibles and tried to confront the two preachers with theological rebukes of their claims.
LSA junior Jonathan Tyrpak, who identified himself as a member of Campus Crusade for Christ, urged interested students to join him for a more civil discussion of Christianity.
“I think this man is a misrepresentation of what Jesus Christ says in the Bible,” Tyrpak said. “I believe that God will forgive all your sins if you believe in him. I think the crowd’s reaction has to do with the lack of grace that this man shows.”
As the afternoon wore on, the exchanges between the two preachers and the crowd grew more intense.
A large group of students began chanting “asshole” loudly. Several same-sex students kissed and hugged each other in order to draw the scorn of the preachers. Others went a step further and tried to spank Lemieux. Another student attempted to flick ash from his cigarette on Venyah’s head.
Jeff Speaks, a School of Music sophomore who stopped one student from drawing pictures of stick figures engaged in anal sex on the back of Lemieux’s shirt, said he was appalled at the behavior of the mob on the Diag.
“I have a strong disagreement with what they are saying,” Speaks said. “But the crowd’s reaction is despicable. They should not be shoving him and taunting him – he has every right to be on the Diag.”
Borovitz said it was hard to not take action.
“He is saying hateful things,” Borovitz said. “And I do not believe I have to stand by and watch him preach hate.”
Other students stood by silently watching the spectacle unfold.
“You learn a lot just sitting here,” Business sophomore Eric Jarrett said. “You learn a lot about different views and a lot about how people behave.”
Venyah, who drove into town this morning in a camper with the license plate “SIN NOT,” said he works full-time as a preacher. He and his wife jointly hold the title to Soulwinners Ministries International, a business registered in Lansing.
Last winter, Venyah gained notoriety for preaching at Michigan State University.
He and his wife both attended MSU in the early 1990s according to reports by the State News, the campus paper.
Ashley Hajski, an LSA junior who identified herself as a Christian and a member of New Life Church, questioned Venyah’s aggressive methods.
“I just wonder what his turnover rate is,” Hajski said. “It doesn’t really help to tell people they are evil.”
Venyah said he has a 100-percent success rate.
“Everyone that is here today now knows they are living in sin,” Venyah said.
Venyah said that he and his cohorts will be back.
“Because you are all so ignorant and hell-bound, we have no choice but to come back tomorrow,” Venyah said.
He said he plans to be on the Diag today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.