Religious group’s presence at university leads to strong student reaction

Staff Reporter

Contributing Reporter

On the evening of March 22 on a sidewalk alongside Delaware Avenue, a group of people from Key of David Christian Center stood barricaded by Newark Police as a crowd of students gathered. Carrying a myriad of signs, their goal was simple: spread what they believe to be the word of God to the hordes of onlooking students.

The group, consisting of men, women and children, assembled in an attempt to address the “sins” of the university’s student body. They began by preaching to the crowd before engaging in arguments with students who voiced their opposition to the speakers’ words or the signs group members held. 

“We try to warn people about eternal hellfire,” pastor Aden Rusfeldt, leader of Key of David Christian Center, said. “It’s because we love most of them.” 

When asked to specify which people he meant, he responded, “straight people.”

While converting students to Christianity was the main goal, members of the group explained the other reasons they chose to come to a college campus.

“One of our main goals is to have every woman drop out of school,” group member Mary Rusfeldt said. “God says that every woman should get married, guide the house and have lots of children.”

Many of those gathered seemed to share the opinion that women are meant to be entirely submissive to their husbands; the females from Key of David Christian Center needed permission from their husbands to speak, whether that be to the press or otherwise.

“We’re just born-again Christians,” group member Jackie Cross said. “Before, I chose a lifestyle of sin, and now I’m choosing a lifestyle of righteousness.”

Ethan Grandin/THE REVIEW

Many students who surrounded the gathering spoke out to voice their opposition to Key of David Christian Center’s messages.

“The message is vile,” Graduate Student Government President William Repetto said. “I wish people wouldn’t abuse their First Amendment to do this kind of thing.”

Due to the fact that the protesters were standing on City of Newark property, the university was unable to remove them from campus, but university officials were able to express their disapproval.

“We absolutely do not condone the stances that they’re putting out, and frankly, the method,” José-Luis Riera, vice president for Student Life, said. “If you look at the way we educate, we don’t educate by screaming at people. […] As of right now, I’m really proud of students. I’m proud of the way they’re engaging and letting their thoughts be known, they’re being honest and not giving in to their tactics.”

While Riera voiced pride in the response of the student body, Rusfeldt disagreed, saying he found the students’ condemnation of his group’s message to be intolerant.

“I would like them to be a little less bigoted, a little more open-minded,” Rusfeldt said. “Nobody likes a h–, and they shouldn’t respect themselves.”

Yet, some students who stopped to listen to the group’s message found it to be more humorous than upsetting.

“This is hilarious, and I’d say everyone sees this as a big joke,” junior computer science major Steven Newman said. “Like, all of the LGBTQ people are taking pictures with flags, triggering him, and he’s just been shouting some stuff. His shirt says, ‘Women belong as dishwashers,’ and I started cracking up.”

Other students voiced concerns about the rhetoric preached by the protesters, citing its potential harm to students’ wellbeing.

“It’s unbelievable,” senior Sean Duffy said. “I mean, the stuff against gays, you see a lot, but some of the other stuff is completely ridiculous.”

Some students also expressed that they felt the protesters were being protected by police due to the fact that they were all white.

“I do think it’s white privilege, to be honest,” freshman woman and gender studies and psychology double-major Anghie Maza said. “If it was people of color there, the cops would treat them very differently if they were saying these things.”

Students also expressed relief that the religious group’s beliefs didn’t seem to be catching on, not just at the university, but also on a much larger scale.

“As dark as it is, I think a lot of people here are finding humor in it, which is kind of nice. It adds a bit of a community aspect to making fun of them,” junior financial planning and wealth management major James Fishman said. “I just wish people didn’t still think like this, but hopefully, this represents a very small minority of people. Hopefully, this isn’t a majority issue.”