What I Learned from a Conversation with the Picketers on Middle Path

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Photo credit: Devon Musgrave-Johnson ’19

Today, several sign-touting evangelists preached on Middle Path. This group has come once a semester since my first year at Kenyon. I’ve always avoided them. Still, I had questions: Why do they come to Kenyon? Are they part of a church? If so, which one? Do they visit other colleges? What is their goal in speaking here?

This year, I sought answers.

I spoke for half an hour with the picketers, mainly with Jerry Mawhorr. Mawhorr serves as the pastor of a non-denominational church in Utica, OH, about ten miles away. “We don’t usually give the name of the church because some students don’t like us being here and they come and destroy things,” he said.

They’ve been coming to Kenyon for seven or eight years. The group travels to other Ohio colleges and universities, such as Kent State, Ohio University, and Bowling-Green. They do not go to Denison University or Oberlin College because at private institutions, they can only speak on the public sidewalks. As far as I understand, the part of Middle Path they stand on qualifies as public property of Gambier rather than the College’s private property.

I’ve often wondered what the group hopes to gain from preaching at Kenyon, where many students adamantly oppose their message.

“It has nothing to do with liberal or conservative, nothing to do with the philosophy of the students,” Mawhorr said. He described the group’s mission as sowing seeds. “The word of God is like a seed. … We teach the word publicly. What that person does with it from there and what God does with it in them is up to him and that individual, but we’re to sow seed and share the word of God.” Evidently, the good deed is the evangelizing, not conversion.

He also acknowledged that the group spreads a message that might conflict with its audience’s views. “The media is promoting an agenda,” he started. “Your school system is promoting an agenda. We’re coming to promote another agenda … we’re trying to balance.”

Their agenda frequently meets resistance. Mawhorr recalled how last week at Youngstown State, a young man stole one of their signs, and then fled from a pursuing police officer. The young man was then arrested, though the group did not press charges. Mawhorr also mentioned a young woman from Columbus State who converted, and came to live with the group for a year.

Mawhorr’s personal story interested me.”When I grew up, I had sexually perverse thoughts,” he said. “Maybe I wanted to hit somebody … or steal from my mother.” He expressed that one should not act what he considers to be sinful thoughts. “I was born a thief and an angry young boy, but that doesn’t mean I should do them.” Mawhorr wanted absolution of his sinfulness, and found that absolution in Christianity.

Raised in what he called an “irreligious home,” he converted to Christianity at the age of 19 while studying business administration at Ohio University in Athens. After reading gospel literature, he chose to convert. He became a pastor in 1997.

One notion that baffled me most was that of acceptance. “God accepts everyone who is willing to come on his terms,” Mawhorr said. On the other hand, Kenyon strives to accept students of all backgrounds and beliefs. It’s no wonder these two groups so viciously butt heads with these dramatically different views of the same thing.

I will not endorse or condemn this group, for everyone is permitted their own belief and opinion. (By extension, everyone permitted to disagree.) I suppose the most I can say now is that my curiosity is sated, and while I hold firm my own beliefs, I come away having heard the background of an enormously different point of view.

A few reminders: The Peer Counselors (740) 398-3806) and Sexual Misconduct Advisors (740) 358-1544) are available 24/7 for confidential talks. Crozier and Unity House are safe spaces where all students can go. Canterbury Kenyon sent an email assuring Kenyon students that “these individuals do not speak for all Christians.”

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