Whether walking to class, savoring the last flashes of summer or on the way to Wiggin Street Coffee for an afternoon pickup, those who were on Middle Path on Sept. 20 may have encountered three preachers from New Martinsburg Christian Church in Martinsburg, Ohio, who set up to engage in their tradition of preaching to anyone who passed by.
The Martinsburg preachers were careful not to go south of the Gates of Hell, which mark the College’s official property line. They set up their signs, many of which contained offensive language against women and the LGBTQ+ community, on a small strip of Middle Path.
New Martinsburg Christian Church, about a 20-minute drive from the College, sponsors a “campus ministry” which travels to colleges around Ohio about three days a week in the fall and spring.
“Yesterday we were at Akron University,” Jerry, one of the preachers who has been part of the ministry for eight years, said. “We go all over, every major college in the state of Ohio — Bowling Green, OU [Ohio University], Ohio State, Youngstown State — to teach young people the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
It wasn’t just the Martinsburg preachers congregated on Middle Path that Thursday. At any point between about 11 a.m. and late afternoon there was a crowd of anywhere from 10 to 30 people on the strip of Middle Path, including students, residents and the occasional faculty member. Although there have been counter-protests in the past, this year saw an unprecedented number of individuals convey their disapproval by remaining on the scene.
“Usually people don’t come and congregate out here,” George Costanzo ’19 said. “People [who] came over [have] just been doing homework and chilling or having conversations with them — it has not gotten heated at all yet, which is incredible.” Costanzo saw the preachers on his way to class and decided he needed to do something.
“It feels like little Pride,” he said, decked in rainbow gear and holding a sign that read “safe space.”
“We’re just gonna chill ’cause this is our space,” Costanzo said. “This is Middle Path.”
Justin Martin ’19, who attends the preachers’ demonstrations every year, said he’s concerned with the lack of introspection on behalf of the preachers. “What sort of disturbs me, every year, I ask these people if they’re worried about people that’ll see their message hurting themselves,” he said. “And they’re genuinely not worried about that.”
Martin speculated that if the preachers confronted the possible repercussions of their words, they wouldn’t be able to live with themselves. “You can’t deal with that in any serious way or the whole circus act has to stop,” he said.
Both Martin and Costanzo stressed the importance of showing first years that this behavior won’t be tolerated at Kenyon. “If one person walks by and sees that these people are being pushed back against, one person who might not be entirely sure of who they are yet, that’s worth it,” Martin said. Costanzo agreed: “The first years that are seeing [the preachers] for the first time,” he said, “I wanted to show them that this is the place that they’re in.”
A woman approached the group of students talking to a preacher. In a steady but emotive voice, she rebuked the preacher’s interpretation of Christianity. “I’m a Christian, and my godliness and my Christianity encourage me to be empathetic and kind and non-judgmental,” she said. “It doesn’t encourage me to spread hatred.”
The woman told the preacher that the signs, which endorse hatred, conveyed the opposite of Christian values. “All sorts of people are supposed to be received with prayer and thanksgiving,” she said.
“That’s right,” the preacher responded, “but not sin, not sin, not sin.”