Traveling preacher sparks debate with students

John Schmidt Web Editor

It’s common for religious advocates to speak their mind on the SDSU campus, but it was the debate of two men on Sept. 11 that drew large crowds outside The Union.

On the east green outside Wagner Hall stood Tom Tolman, a senior SDSU student holding a Harry Potter book and evangelical preacher Keith Darrel holding The Bible, and the two discussed various topics of religion with a ring of numerous SDSU students around them asking questions and chiming in on the discussion in the late afternoon Wednesday.

Darrell, who declined an interview from The Collegian, is much older than Tolman. Holding his bible, worn from use, he thumbed through the book and read out passages on several topics including gay marriage and its immorality.  

He came from a group called the Whitefield Fellowship, which is an “evangelistic ministry dedicated to reaching lost and unchurched college students through the preaching of the Gospel and apologetics,” according to their website.

The Whitefield Fellowship travels to campus across the nation, where they find an area to exercise free speech and speak to students; their method of rhetoric is apologetics. Apologetics is an argumentative form that defends a particular doctrine in Darrell’s case, Christianity.

In September 2011, Darrell was arrested at Youngstown State University and charged with disorderly conduct for preaching to students on the Youngstown, Ohio campus. And in October 2012, Darrell left a free speech session at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., after he felt unwelcomed by the student population.

The crowd of SDSU students was engaged and was open to a debate with Darrell.

“No matter what side you’re on it’s interesting to listen to,” said sophomore Eric Mageussen.

Tolman said he was heading to class after lunch when he saw Darrell.

“I like to question things so I went and talked to him,” Tolman said.

The attendance of the crowd ebbed and flowed throughout the debate, according to Tolman. Surges of students arrived once classes let out and some just passed by.

In between classes, Tolman said he went to grab a Harry Potter book, and that was when the crowds started increasing.

“If he can yell quotes from a book, so can I,” Tolman said.

Senior Brandon Smelley believes that both parties were dodging the questions Tolman, Darrell, and the crowds were saying.


“They are just yelling to get their point across,” Smelley said.

Students in the crowd felt the discussion is exciting, however, it could be more civilized.

“It’s just them yelling over each other,” said freshman Mike Blassal, who said he had never seen a public debate like this before and thought it was interesting.

Blassal said that the questions he was asking was an attempt to see where Darrell knew where he was coming from.

“They could be asking more relevant questions,” Blassal said.

According to several students watching the debate, SDSU University Police officers appeared periodically to monitor the crowd and make sure it didn’t get unruly.

Darrell arrived outside The Union in the late morning and stayed well into the afternoon, according to students in the crowd. At around 5 p.m., Darrell left and slowly the crowd followed.