By Cady Inabinett, Harrison Neville and Xander Swain. With contributions from Nethan Crew, Wesley Walter and Cole Swain.
Protests erupted on Main Quad over a pastor holding a controversial sign on the afternoon of Feb. 8.
The protests began earlier that afternoon when Luke Beets, an out-of-state preacher and minister, was confronted by multiple students. The confrontation stemmed from a sign Beets was carrying, which read, “Who must repent?”
Underneath “Who must repent?” the sign had a long list, which included, lesbians, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, transgender people and homosexuals.
In addition to his sign, Beets was wearing a GoPro camera strapped to his chest. He also had King James Versions of the Bible for students to take for free. These, along with a second sign that Beets had propped up nearby, disappeared during the event, and were later found in a trashcan nearby.
Beets discussed his viewpoints with several students, and, at several points, the students he was speaking to became angry and began to shout at him. One such student was Lucas Seven, who found some of Beets’s points hypocritical.
“He’s saying things like, it’s a sin to be gay,” said Seven. “But he also doesn’t recognize it in the same Bible in the same places that he’s saying that referencing for the immorality of homosexuality in the Bible…they also say things like, you can’t eat pork, you can’t eat shellfish.”
Seven told The Alabamian Beets’s response to his criticisms was to say Jesus had absolved him of those other laws, but not homosexuality because it was a moral rule—a distinction that Seven said wasn’t in the Bible itself.
Seven wasn’t the only one who felt Beets’s message was out of line with Biblical teachings. According to Robin Lee Watson, Beets’s rhetoric was thinly disguised hate. Watson is the president of Spectrum – a UM club that, according to their page on falconlink, “was created to help promote tolerance and understanding of all LGBTQ+ people.”
Beets, however, said he was on campus to preach the gospel in order to spread the word of Jesus Christ and encourage others to repent and confess their sins.
Beets did acknowledge that his sign was provocative, but said that he wasn’t trying to upset anyone.
“The point of the sign is to draw attention,” said Beets. “Not to make people mad, but to draw attention.”
He said he wasn’t surprised people were mad, either.
“The Bible says that the preaching of the cross brings offense,” Beets said.
By late afternoon, there was a large crowd of students yelling insults. Someone brought a speaker and many of the students danced to the music, slightly away from Beets. Others stood closer talking with Beets.
For much of the time that the crowd was there, campus police sat in cars nearby, watching the event.
A heated encounter occurred between students and Beets, after Beets misgendered a female transgender student, for which he immediately apologized. Shortly after this, Dean of Students Dr. Tammi Dahle came forward to address the crowd.
“You all have the right to protest and we support you in it. This person who is on university property has the right to be here by state law and by federal Constitution,” Dahle said.
She advised students to ignore and avoid Beets, saying, “The best thing you can do if you don’t agree with him is ignore him and don’t give him anymore of your power.”
Dahle urged students to remain peaceful as well, warning, “Don’t get yourself in any trouble. Protest means state your opinions but do not hurt anyone, do not break any laws, keep it civilized. We support you in that.”
Beets left campus around 4:15 p.m. Afterwards, chief of UM Police Tim Alexander addressed the crowd. Like Dahle, he urged students to not engage with Beets, saying, “This is what they want. They want to offend you.”
“Do not give him that time. This is the only thing in life that you can’t put a price tag on is time. Now ask yourself, honestly, was he really worth your time?” Alexander said.
He did not dissuade students from standing up for their beliefs, however, saying that he understood why the crowd wanted to protest.
“I get standing up for rights. I’m telling you, I’m a dad of three daughters. I want you to stand up for yourselves,” he said.
Alexander also spoke on his love for the community and his desire to protect it, remarking, “Literally, I love Montevallo. This is my home. I grew up in this city. I won’t let anyone come in here and emotionally hijack you and we ain’t going to let anyone come in here and destroy our house, alright?”
As the crowd cooled off and protests died down, Watson addressed the group to plan for Beets return the next day. Watson advocated for more peaceful protests, saying, “Yelling our voices out to a man that isn’t going to listen to us anyways is not productive. I think that something that is productive is joy. Righteous protest of joy.”
Watson suggested holding a pride dance and protest. They encouraged participants to bring pride flags and gear, bring speakers for music and to have open conversations about activism.
Before returning to campus on Feb. 9, Beets made a post on his Facebook reading, “We are headed back to the university of Montavello for day two. Please pray that God will bring conviction of sin and salvation to the students.”
Majority of the comments on the post were from UM students who opposed Beets’s presence on campus. Many comments heckled Beets. Others critiqued his methods of preaching, such as commenter Trinity Buse, who wrote, “hi! i’m a Christian montevallo student and would like to ask that you don’t return again.”
Buse’s comment went on to say that Beets’s preaching was, “causing a strain on the Christ-based faith organizations and efforts on campus” as well.
The protests continued during the next day, Feb. 9. Spectrum organized a protest in response to Beets that promoted “pride and peace.” On Spectrum’s Instagram, they stated, “We’re coming out to show our pride and to take a stand for what we believe in.” The main protests did not pick up until around 1:45 to 2:00 and lasted until around 4:30 in the afternoon.
Watson, said, “Today we have a turn out that the entire purpose was made very clear of this being about joy and pride and healing. Whereas yesterday the turnout was because it was a response immediate of anger and reaction to that which caused a lot of negative emotions and a lot of just harm.”
They continued, “I am hopeful that this was a spark that lets other people know that this is a thing that you can do, and you don’t, it’s not always going to be just something that someone in power tells you to do, that you can organize on your own. So, I hope that this will spread because the dance party, the joy of it all has been really comforting, and it’s really nice to see everyone to come out and have a good time.”
Other students at the protest expressed similar sentiments of the joy and overall inclusivity that the protests held, compared to the previous day.
Protester Kayla Hampton said, “I think today was a great thing. I’m glad everyone came together to confront the bigot.”
“I just think it’s beautiful seeing all of these people here together. And, like, yes, we have a very hateful person here, but no one else is being hateful. Everyone is loving each other, and it’s really cool to see,” remarked CJ Edwards, another protestor.
Edwards also described the crowd as being “a bit more organized,” than the previous day.
“Yesterday, we didn’t know what was going on, like, we came down to see if he was homophobic because we couldn’t see his sign,” Edwards said, “And so I think yesterday was more of a let’s pester him and see what’s going on and then kind of make fun of him. While today I think is more of yeah let’s just come out here and have a good time.”
Beets also reflected on the events of the previous day, saying “I do understand that a lot of times college campus ministers they can come across as brash and mean. If some of the people that were here yesterday would answer when you talk to them—some of them did yesterday, I asked them—I was not rude. Now, some people disagreed with my sign and I understand that, but as far as how I talked to people, how I communicate, I do my best to be as polite as I can.”
He also defended his actions saying, “I’m not doing anything the Bible doesn’t tell us to do,” saying scripture calls for believers to call out sin.
Beets went on to say that it’s not his intention to make anyone upset, but that he believes the scripture will offend some—pointing towards the apostles as an example, saying, “All of the early apostles, except for the Apostle John—except for him, were killed a martyr’s death. Which I have no desire for that.”
One protestor, Brady Ables, said his father is a Pentecostal pastor with similar to beliefs to Beets.
“I saw him here yesterday on Facebook Live,” Ables said, “And I thought most of these people probably are just arguing with him on a very basic level and don’t know Biblical knowledge to kind of debate him.”
He said he started talking to Beets and tried to reference specific scriptures, “to try and keep on his toes and make sure he knows what he knows.”
“What he thinks he’s doing right now, is he thinks he’s standing alone against the forces of Sodom and Gomorrah over there,” Ables remarked about Beets, “And he’s the Lone Ranger for Christ on this campus. But he’s just a sad little man.”
Compared to the previous day, there was an increased presence of police officers acting as security for the protests.
When asked what he thought of the day’s protests Alexander said, “Today, I think they were okay.”
Alexander said that Beets “did everything right” in terms of coming on campus, saying Beets came to the police office to get a parking pass and asked for directions to Main Quad.
Despite Beets careful adherence to campus regulations, he admitted that he originally was not planning on coming to Montevallo.
“Really, I had planned on being at Tuscaloosa this week. Just didn’t work out with everything,” Beets said, “And, so, this is a college, a local college to where I’m staying at that is close enough that I could still come and be here during the day.”
Alexander also said that the university can’t deny people from coming on campus to speak, but that they may be looking into pursuing a similar policy to the University of Alabama—which requires speakers to be sponsored before visiting and speaking on campus.
“Yes, we’re definitely talking about it. The Dean of Student Services, right now, we were just discussing it,” Alexander said.
Dahle, however, said, “I don’t know about the University of Alabama policy, so I can’t speak to that at all, nor will I.”
She did say, “At this point we review our policies, you know, usually annually depending on what the policy is, some don’t need to be reviewed that often. You know, certainly we can review this policy and see if there are any amendments that need to be made. But our policy was written in direct correlation with state law, so we may not have much room to amend our policy and be in compliance with what is the law in the state of Alabama.”
University president Dr. John Stewart was also present at the second day of protests. When asked what he thought of the students’ protests he said, “It’s their campus and they have every right to express their opinions and their beliefs and I’m kind of proud of it. That’s the way it should be.”
“I think our campus is a beacon of comfort and security for student of all different stripes, especially in our state and where we live,” Stewart said, “And I’m really proud that we can have a free and open discourse on our campus.”