Traveling preacher breaks the silence

The University of Nevada, Reno campus pulsed with activity the week before spring break, and not just because of the impending week away from study. Students, professors and administrators were gathered on the steps of Getchell Library bearing witness to the Christian evangelist group taking over the mid-afternoon’s sound waves.

Pastor Tom Griner of Reno led the group, carrying a small, leather-bound Bible and stocked with several bottles of water. He was flanked to his right by a group of students with large signs (mimicking the evangelical group’s signs) that proclaimed that the Christian group’s actions were against school policies of no harassment and provided phone numbers to complain to the office of the president of the university. On Griner’s left and behind him, his supporters waved large signs on tall posts. The largest of the signs said, “Warning: Fornicators, Drunkards, Thieves, Adulterers, God Haters, Liars, Homosexuals, Judgment.” “Homosexuals” was printed much larger than the other words, eliciting an angry response from many students.

Other members of the Christian group mingled with the students gathered on the library steps, engaging students in intimate conversations about life, death, debauchery and the like.

Griner held his ground, waving the Bible and stretching his vocal chords. One of his messages was that repentance will save people from the tortures of hell and punishment by God. Several students asked about his own education, whether he belonged to a fraternity in college, and they called him a hypocrite. Griner kept insisting that the messages were a warning to the evil ways of university students and that his message was one of love. But the students said that the messages were of hate and intolerance. The campus newspaper Sagebrush reported that some campus Christian activists made known their unhappiness with the Griner group’s tone.

In a March 14 letter to the Sagebrush, Griner said, “[P]lease consider that our message was not a message of hate. We care for you or we would not take the time to show up.”

Many students felt that the message was not uplifting in any way. “To me,” said history major Lolly Hedeen, 48, “they came off as being very hostile. They were loud, pushy and obnoxious. That seems to counter their message.”

By March 15, Pastor Griner had gathered quite an audience. Campus police were on hand to monitor the situation as the preacher quoted Bible verses, and students asked him loaded questions. “We get involved when somebody breaks the law,” said Todd Renwick of the campus police. Renwick said he didn’t doubt that there were complaints, but that a complaint was not enough for the campus police to act upon. “We were there just to make sure that everybody had a right to free speech.”

At press time, Pastor Griner wasn’t available for comment. His wife, Kathie Griner, said he was visiting other college campuses. The traveling preacher has been to many campuses, including UC Davis earlier this year. According to the Davis wiki (www.daviswiki.org), “They make quite a scene with their very large signs. Sometimes they draw a large crowd, composed mostly of students who want to heckle them in whatever way they can. Many students ask difficult questions.”

Whether the pastor has converted any souls to Christianity is unknowable. He did, however, stir up a campus that has been void of active protesting and student involvement. The campus was alive with talk about the evangelists.

Dr. Tamara Valentine, Director of the Honors Program at UNR, said that the Christian group was one of few to take full advantage of the free speech zones on campus.