Trying to understand

From chaos came compassion.

Out of emotion came understanding.

Such a conclusion would not have seemed possible for those who witnessed the whirlwind of bitter protest and discord that took place outside the Union yesterday.

But unless they kept watching, they would have missed the dialogue move to the point where all sides turned to constructive criticism.

Considering the fiery conversation that led to the shift – essentially a product of coincidence and faith – it was a stunning display of civility and commitment to progress.

The process began sometime yesterday morning, when eight traveling evangelicals began to demonstrate in front of the Union – not in itself a rare event on campus. The group soon spread to areas around the Education Building and Math/Science Building, carrying massive signs and passing out literature.

They were members of the Warnecki family, who live on the road while traveling from campus to campus to “[share] the gospel,” according to one member, Sarah.

“We just come and we go,” said another member, Abraham.

But several students later complained they were harassed by family members as they walked past.

“I was told I was worthless and I was going to hell for not taking their literature,” said Adam Dunn, a sophomore.

Another student, Aryn Griffis, said she was “surrounded” by family members.

“I just think that it’s ridiculous,” Griffis said.

Warnecki family members denied the charges, but some students were less than pleased, and a small group decided to respond.

They quickly made a series of their own signs and came back to protest the Warneckis’ methods.

“Jesus was a Jew … think for yourself,” read one.

“Instead of them preaching, ‘this is what we believe’ … they were just like, ‘you guys are all sinners and you’re going to hell,” said Kaylee Huckaby, a freshman.

“A lot of us were upset,” said Lindsay Fitzgerald, a freshman carrying signs with Huckaby. “I don’t believe that they should impose on other people’s beliefs.”

The Warneckis left the area by around 1 p.m., but back by the Union, another speaker had started to proselytize in the speakout zone next to the front doors.

Several students also accused the man, Zachary Coates, 34, of verbal harassment.

“We’ve been accosted by him before,” said Townsend Smith, a freshman, “this is getting a little out of hand.”

Soon, the students with signs made their way to where Coates was speaking, holding them up next to Coates as a large crowd began to gather.

Coates, who said he was a carpenter, remained unfazed as all sides heatedly exchanged words.

Eventually, the tension was too much for Wes Strieter, a junior.

“I had been standing here for a little while,” Strieter said. “I basically ran right up to him … [and] everybody started joining in.”

But rather than escalate the situation, the sudden physical closeness resulted in surprising turnaround: Coates and the students stopped screaming and started to talk.

Calmly but with deep personal conviction, both sides discussed the problems of Coates’ approach and students explained how they had been offended.

Eventually, both sides began to came to terms and even started discussing theology.

“Oh, I see where he’s coming from,” one person said as Coates explained his views.

“What are your views on the state of the dead?” asked another.

By all accounts, the discussion, which lasted well past two hours, ended on an overwhelmingly positive note.

“[Coates’] whole message has been right,” said Christopher Biggins, a senior.

Now the conversation and “his deliverance,” Biggins said, “is coming in love.”