Speaker draws embittered crowd


Lizette Chavez

Nathaniel Runnels, preaching to a large crowd of engaging students.

Megan Fenwick, Reporter

A large crowd of students was drawn around a religious speaker at Bakersfield College on Feb. 8. Nathaniel Runnels, 25, faced largely negative reactions from those listening to his message, which included offensive remarks, condemned members of other religions to hell, and blamed women for being raped.

Many students attempted to reason with Runnels amid the shouts exchanged between himself and the enraged audience. While a woman was expressing her opinion, Runnels dismissed her by saying, “Do not listen to emotional women.”

One Christian student named Shanel Dillard asked him questions about evolution and fossil evidence. “You can go about it without hate. And he uses the hateful way, calling everybody who doesn’t believe in his way a sinner, but we all have our different perceptions. Even when you’re trying to have a nice conversation with him, he comes off as aggressive,” she said.

“How many of you are Muslim? You are all going to hell,” Runnels said, provoking outcry from those gathered.

Larence Froese, another member of Calvary Chapel Bakersfield who held a sign next to Runnels, believed that their incendiary approach to preaching was successful because of how many people had gathered to listen, despite how unfavorable the response from the crowd was. “If you talked quietly, there’d be two or three,” he pointed out.

While many clearly disagreed with what Runnels was preaching, their opinions on whether he should be allowed to preach on campus were more complicated.

“On the one hand, he does have the right to say what he wants to say, but also it’s distracting us from when we actually need to focus on our education,” said someone who wished to stay anonymous. Another student, Jason Gossage, said, “If you’re trying to incite a riot, that’s not good, but if you have your own booth and you’re quiet it’s perfectly fine. This guy definitely needs to not be on campus.” Gossage did, however, express worry that banning a religious speaker would set a dangerous precedent for free speech and other religious speakers on BC’s campus.

At one point, employees of BC’s Department of Public Safety had to step in to drive the crowd back after it had pushed too close to Runnels.