MISSOULA — Messages of condemnation and inequality on the University of Montana campus are being confronted this week with glitter and a dance party.
That's what happened after "traveling street preacher" Mikhail Savenko, and Jed Smock, of Indiana-based group The Campus Ministry, started taking turns sitting in a folding chair outside the University Center to share their interpretations of the Bible and other matters:
Women shouldn't go to college — they should make sandwiches.
Muslims want to blow stuff up — so no sense having discussions with them.
Homosexual sex can cause deformities or death.
The students who heard those messages from the campus visitors over the week and relayed them to the Missoulian didn't buy them. Some worried the diatribes would feel especially threatening to the LGBTQ community.
So Sarah Hoffer, Gabriella DeMarinis and others decided to launch a party in the same area with glitter, rainbow flags, gay pride T-shirts, a nail painting station and, of course, Lady Gaga singing "Born This Way" on the speakers.
Legally, the men have the right to express themselves, DeMarinis said. But she said students have a moral obligation to counter their message, and Hoffer said it's especially true at the UM, a campus known for its openness.
"That's not what the university stands for," said Hoffer, a junior Spanish major.
Over the course of this week, the week before finals, Erynn O'Brien, a junior in wildlife biology, said Christian students on campus had approached her and said the preaching duo didn't stand for Christianity, either.
A dancer who occasionally flashed bare breasts at Smock held a sign that was more pointed: "This isn't a Christian — This is an a--hole."
The campus stints appear to be fundraising efforts for Smock and Savenko, who both have PayPal links and requests for donations on their websites.
Smock, though, said their goal was to bring students to Christ. He said he believes their method was effective, although he admitted most of the interactions with students involved arguments. His website advocates "Confrontational Evangelism."
"We're here to preach the Bible and call students to repent," Smock said shortly after leaving the folding chair to let Savenko have a turn.
Thursday afternoon, a couple dozen people had gathered loosely around the speakers, but the lectures didn't seem to resonate, or were countered by students in a sometimes fiery display that showed a divide of values deep as a chasm.
At one point, Savenko, whose website notes he is based in Oregon, made worrisome claims about sexual intercourse: "If you have anal sex, your rectum could fall out."
One of the many signs posted around the speaker offered a different experience: "I can't hear you over all the awesome sex I'm having."
At another point, Smock questioned the idea of female masturbation to Anastasia Halfpap, a math major who stood squarely in front of Smock and challenged him.
"You don't think women masturbate?"
"Why would women masturbate?" Smock said.
"I masturbate, like, twice a day."
"You're never going to have babies with a vibrator."
"Well, I don't want any babies," Halfpap said.
The audience was filled with people wearing glitter and rainbow flags, but the festivities didn't drown out the entire message.
Loren Erickson, a senior studying literature, said she'd heard of people like the speakers, but she was in disbelief at hearing from them first hand. For instance, she heard one of the speakers describe blondes as dumb, but she was a valedictorian in high school with a 4.0 grade point average and a head of blond hair.
"I'm, like, baffled. I literally can't believe it. He has to be joking. There's no way," said Erickson, originally from St. Ignatius.
Several students said the speakers specifically choose times students are already stressed, like before finals, to present their message, described as "nasty" and "threatening."
Early in the week, Tristin Hennessey said he feared people wouldn't feel safe on campus because of the acts by the pair, but the event may have backfired in uniting students to support each other instead. Then, the dance party started, the glitter flew, and a "kiddie pool" is to come out Thursday for the "beach party."
As a result of the events, the speakers and demonstrations against them, Hennessey and others said they got to know more of their peers on campus. And they like each other.
"It's made me feel comfortable in my community," Hennessey said.