Ross Jackson – better known as “Brother Ross” – preached Evangelical Christianity on the W.C. Ferguson Memorial Chapel steps last week and students turned out in droves to argue with him about his ideologies and religious convictions.
Jackson shouted testimony containing statements and stories many students said they found offensive. During his speech, he said that college students should fear God, that all women are whores and that it is wrong to be a “homo-lover.” He also said his listeners were damned to Hell unless they repented for their sins. Jackson works for Revival Mission Ministries, based in North Carolina.
His loud, confrontational style “is just one effect style of preaching of many. This is one venue of preaching where this style is most appropriate,” Jackson told The Echo. “You have to get [students’] attention and keep their attention. It’s not like a church where everyone is on time sitting there quietly waiting for you to preach.”
Jackson said he also incorporates over-the-top theatrics in his preaching style.
“There’s nothing wrong with having fun and making it a little entertaining. That’s not a sin,” he said.
Visits from student-proclaimed “crazy preacher guys” are not new to UCA, but this week’s police presence was.
Wednesday afternoon, Major John Merguie, operations commander at UCAPD, stood watch behind the crowd alongside three other officers.
“We got a few calls, so we came to check it out for ourselves. Freshmen, who have never seen this sort of thing, get concerned. I’ve been here several years and it started several years ago – that we have people come to campus and speak like [Brother Ross],” Merguie said. “If you’ve never seen it before you’d think, ‘holy cow, something is the matter,’ but it’s fine. We just came out here to make sure he wasn’t crossing the line and that our students aren’t crossing the line.”
He said some students believed Jackson was “disrupting the peace of campus” and asked for his removal, but that removing him would violate his First Amendment rights.
UCAPD Community Policing, Special Operations Coordinator, Public Information Officer Brad Moore said that other students said they had been harassed, but none of those students filed police reports against Jackson.
“If you listen to him — the way he’s saying things, the words he’s using — he’s not really harassing [the students]. He’s using general statements instead of specific ones and he’s not directly engaging them. It’s like saying ‘people who wear rain boots are going to Hell’ instead of ‘you, girl in the front wearing rain boots, are going to Hell,'” Moore said. “It’s obvious he’s either done research or has had training on the laws.”
Associate VP for Communications, Public Relations and Marketing Christina Madsen said Jackson was within UCA’s free speech policy. Board policy designates the area adjacent to the southwest corner of W.C. Ferguson Memorial Chapel as a limited public forum.
The policy states that any person or organization may use the designated area “on a first-come, first-served basis…for free speech purposes, without registration, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
“As a public university, we pride ourselves on allowing freedom of speech on this campus,” Madsen said. “We are not in the business — based on content — of determining whether or not someone can do it. Now, if [Brother Ross] crosses the line, breaks the law or is accused of harassment in the form of a police report, he will be arrested like anybody else. If not, he has the right to share his ideas as much as anyone else does.”
According to WVTM 13 News, Jackson was arrested for inciting a riot while preaching in Wilmington, North Carolina in May 2014.
Jackson held a Bible and wore a point-of-view camera while speaking at UCA. He said he wore the camera to keep record in the event that a student files charges against him or authorities question the way he is preaching.
“Most students are sinners and therefore liars so if anything was to come to judicial process I have record of it,” Jackson said. “It’s not just for me, it’s for them too. I’ve seen people get beat up on campuses.”
Merguie said he arrested a student for disorderly conduct years ago after he threw a water bottle at a different preacher whose preaching style was similar to Jackson’s.
“I hated to arrest the guy, but he let his emotions overwhelm him. Some of the kids get really worked up about it all,” he said.
Jackson said he does not judge his success as a preacher by the response of his audience, although he wishes people would show more respect for his ideas.
“I would love for people to shut up and listen to me teach and ask questions, but as long as we’re living on Earth that’s never going to happen,” he said.”Some people are mature, some people are immature. Some people can verbally communicate their feelings and expressions. Some people can’t so they just scream and want to threaten and intimidate you.”
George Edward “Jed” Smock, Jr. – better known as “Brother Jed” – and his wife Cynthia D. Lasseter Smock (a.k.a. “Sister Cindy”) of Campus Ministry USA will occupy the Free Speech Zone on Nov. 17. According to Campus Ministry USA’s schedule, Brother Jed will leave to visit the University of Arkansas—Little Rock on Nov. 18 but will return Nov. 19 and 20.