Why Students Should Turn Away from Ring Road “Evangelists”

Self-righteous, pseudo-religious evangelists are my favorite screaming people on Ring Road, combining the aggressiveness of $2 boba vendors with the naive worldviews of freshmen and cranking up both to eleven. Preaching comically misinterpreted Bible verses and refusing to hear any opinion that isn’t their own, these people attempt — and utterly fail — to convert students to their religion by repeatedly shouting conservative beliefs into the large crowds that inevitably form to watch their act.

I am the first to admit that I will drop whatever I’m doing to go and watch these guys run their show. I don’t agree with what they have to say, nor am I on a crusade against their existence; I just like to see them stumble through their attempts to reverse-heckle spectators. It’s a cheap thrill and, at the very least, reminds me why attending a public university is so great.

Sadly, I always come out of these spectating sessions feeling a certain level of guilt for having participated in these people’s tirades. They obviously want an audience to yell at, and indulging this wish encourages their behavior while also giving them an incentive to come back on another day. While they are entitled to do that, nothing truly productive comes out of these interactions, generating anger and pettiness rather than any intellectual debating.

I’m fine with these evangelists doing what they do, and I hope that, if they have nothing else to do with their days, they can look forward to dumping their craziness on the safe environment of Ring Road. However, most (if not all) of these talks devolve into shouting matches between student and speaker. While I have neither witnessed nor heard reports of these encounters ever becoming physical, there is a possibility that one phrase will turn a relatively normal speech into a brawl.

Agitation is common, if not expected, at these events, with headstrong students screaming over the unfazed speakers in attempts to defend their beliefs. Both sides of these debates attempt to stay civil, but the threat of an unstable person becoming too offended and taking action against either side of these interactions is always there.

Police officers are usually called in to monitor the evangelists, making sure they don’t get personal with students and vice versa. Their presence alone recognizes this sensitivity and creates a sense of impending danger rather than safety.

There are at least two police officers near whatever evangelist decides to show up for the day, wasting their time and shrouding these speeches in a seedy light.
For everyone’s benefit, we should not indulge these speakers’ delusions of planting religious seeds in students’ minds and instead make attempts to halt their visits to Ring Road. Although there is not much we can do to directly stop them from entering the campus, we can work to lessen their message’s impact.

To discourage them, we first need to stop communicating with them. While it may be hard to resist shouting back at the wild accusations some of them make, responding to them gives them validation in their mission and does nothing to change their beliefs. These people choose to come to our campus and preach their gospel — no amount of counterarguing or logic will dissuade them from the truth they choose to believe. Ad hominem attacks and petty remarks function in much the same way, only temporarily silencing the speaker before their schtick starts up again. They come to campus knowing what they’re getting into – lame jokes and curse words only stoop students down to a level most of these guys don’t even touch.

I witnessed one of these spectacles last week after class. The evangelist was spewing his usual hate speech at passing students, but this time some spectators took it a step further by calling him ugly and yelling over him as he tried to talk. The guy wasn’t being a gentleman before these students started their harassment, but that doesn’t mean they need to stoop down to his level in order to get their point across. I understand that it is important to defend your beliefs when they are threatened, but when one lunatic with a self-applied hatchet haircut comes to campus and starts yelling politically incorrect remarks, there’s no need to be petty.

Additionally, we also need to stop gathering to hear them speak. Although it is amusing, generating a crowd is exactly what these people want to happen when they get to campus. And, while we may not be digesting any of their preachings, the hope that we are is what drives them to come back week after week. As hard as it may be, we need to just walk past these speakers whenever we see them on campus.

By far the most volatile of my guilty pleasures, Ring Road evangelists’ antics — as well as those of the people watching them — constantly toe the line between civilized debates and full-on fights, leaving students responsible for discouraging their actions and preventing future visits.

Isaac Espinosa is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at imespino@uci.edu.